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Research / Discovery

CSU adds new high-resolution electron microscope

February 26, 2014
Kortny Rolston

By the end of April, Amy Prieto and her students will no longer have to drive to the Colorado School of Mines to analyze their nanomaterial samples with a specialized microscope.

Instead, the Colorado State University professor and her team will walk down a flight of stairs and use a new $1.9 million high-resolution transmission electron microscope.

“It’s very exciting,” said Prieto, associate professor of Chemistry and CEO of Prieto Battery. “We’ve been driving to (the Colorado School of Mines) to run samples in their TEM or sending them to a colleague of mine in Kentucky.”

It is the second high-resolution TEM to be installed at CSU in recent years. The other is housed at the University’s anatomy and zoology building and is operated by Biomedical Sciences. It is configured to analyze biological samples.

Installation of CSU's new transmission electron microscope is underway. It takes several weeks to install and calibrate the high-resolution microscope.
Several CSU entities, including the Department of Chemistry, College of Natural Sciences, the Vice President of Research, the Provost’s Office and others, partnered to purchase the TEM, renovate the Central Instrument Facility where it is housed, and hire Roy Geiss, a new research scientist, to oversee the use of the instrument.

“Many people and units at the University worked together to make this happen,” said Ellen Fisher, chair of the Chemistry Department. “It was truly a university-wide effort.”

The need for another TEM

Prieto and others have long wanted another TEM to support CSU’s growing expertise and body of research in advanced materials.  There are now roughly 60 researchers working in this area, up from approximately 30 faculty 10 years ago.

The TEM in the A-Z building is used to study organic and other soft materials. Researchers use it to increase the contrast of certain features in samples.

A TEM transmits a beam of electrons through a very thin specimen.  As the electrons pass through the sample, they interact with the specimen and form an image that enables researcher to examine details as small as single columns of atoms
The new microscope is designed to evaluate harder materials such as those Prieto develops for use in solar cells and batteries. It images very tiny features, down to single columns of atoms.

“They are very different TEMs,” Prieto said. “The Department of Biomedical Sciences has been very generous and granted us access its TEM to check our samples, but it isn’t designed to provide the high-resolution data we need to publish papers in our field.”

Transforming research

Both Prieto and Fisher believe the new instrument has the potential to transform materials research at CSU.

The TEM will not only allow researchers like Prieto to examine their samples faster and on site but also experiment with new ways of evaluating their makeup and structure - also known as characterization -  an important aspect of materials science.

Prieto compares materials research to baking and experimenting with new recipes to find the right combination of ingredients.

“We create new recipes and we need to understand what the ingredients created and how they interacted,” she said. “This characterization process is critical to finding the right recipe. This new TEM allows us to do that.”

Fisher said in addition to Prieto’s battery and solar work, the TEM will aid other groups’ research on using metal nanoparticles in the thermal treatment of tumors, creating new catalysts to improve drug discovery processes, constructing next-generation antimicrobial biomedical devices, and developing advanced composites for diverse applications.

“We are going to be able to do experiments we haven’t been able to do before,” she said. “This instrument will benefit a vast array of researchers campus-wide.”