Grant funds powerful microscope for nanoscience research

Materials science and nanotechnology researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln are getting some much-needed equipment that will help enhance and expedite their studies.

UNL’s Nebraska Center for Materials and Nanoscience received a $1.3 million grant from the National Science Foundation to purchase a state-of-the-art transmission electron microscope. This Major Research Instrumentation grant is funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

The transmission electron microscope uses electrons instead of light to show details of materials at the near-atomic level. It will enable researchers to characterize the structure and other properties of nanoscale materials and devices such as thin films, patterned surfaces, particles and wires. It also can map structure, composition and properties and provide 3-dimensional analysis.

“Knowing the structure of nanomaterials is extremely important,” said physicist David Sellmyer, director of the center. “When you make particles that small, they can have structures that don’t exist normally. You can’t clearly understand how the particles are functioning without knowing the structure.”

To do this high-level work, UNL researchers currently must travel outside the state to use equipment at other facilities, an expensive and time-consuming impediment.

The new equipment will help researchers conduct cutting-edge research, such as developing hybrid nanomaterials. Surrounding magnetic particles with a non-magnetic gold coating, for example, has medical applications. Inside a person’s body, the gold won’t react chemically, but the magnet can be used to enhance imaging.

“It’s extremely important to have new state-of-the-art equipment periodically so that you can do the best science with it,” Sellmyer said. “The ARRA grants have enabled us to enhance our strong research programs.”

Many of the center’s 75 faculty and their research groups will use the equipment, which will be housed in of the Central Facility for Electron Microscopy operated by the center. The new microscope will be installed in early 2011.