University of Georgia

$1 million NSF grant funds new electron microscope

image of the Georgia Electron Microscopy team
The Georgia Electron Microscopy team includes, from left, lab coordinator Mary Ard, lab manager Eric Formo, staff member Beth Richardson, and co-directors Tina Salguero and John Shields. (Photo by Dorothy Kozlowski/UGA)

A grant of nearly $1 million from the National Science Foundation, with additional funding provided by the Office of Research and the Georgia Research Alliance, will bring a new electron microscope—the only one of its kind in Georgia—to the UGA campus.

The project is a collaboration between Georgia Electron Microscopy, one of UGA’s research core facilities, and several long-time GEM users. Tina Salguero, associate professor of chemistry and director of GEM, serves as principal investigator for the project, which received $997,499 in NSF funding.

“Our proposal identified 29 major users of the new microscope across 14 departments,” she said. “The diversity of research interests represented highlights the broad demand for this microscope at UGA.”

Salguero investigates two-dimensional nanomaterials for electronics and energy storage applications. The team also includes co-PIs Sergiy Minko, professor of chemistry, who develops organic/inorganic hybrid fibers for next-generation textiles; Aaron Thompson, associate professor of environmental soil chemistry, who studies the complexities of soil chemistry; Ralph Tripp, Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar of Vaccine and Therapeutic Studies, who is a leading expert in respiratory viruses and related diseases; and Jin Xie, associate professor of chemistry, who studies nanomaterials for bioimaging and drug delivery.

“Finding the funds to keep expensive, high-end core facility equipment state of the art is a constant challenge,” said David Lee, vice president for research. “It helps enormously when faculty are successful in attracting grants that cover at least a major portion of the cost, as in this case. I look forward to seeing what the team is able to accomplish with this remarkable equipment.”

The microscope, a Hitachi SU9000EA, can image and analyze samples using a low-energy, “gentle” electron beam, unlike most transmission electron microscopes that use high-energy electron beams.

“The main advantage is that the ‘gentle’ beam causes much less damage to samples, especially organic and biological samples,” Salguero said. “This instrument will also allow us to collect elemental information with a technique called electron energy loss spectroscopy, which previously has not been available at UGA.”

In addition to its applications in research, the microscope will also be used for class demonstrations and workshops, as well as to generate images and data to help develop unique, open-access curricular materials for K-12 STEM education.

The new microscope will be installed in March and housed temporarily in Barrow Hall, at GEM’s current facility, until construction of the I-STEM Research Building is completed. Expected to open in summer 2021, the I-STEM facility is specially designed for equipment that is sensitive to vibrations and noise, like the new microscope. Placing the microscope in this location is expected to foster additional collaboration on campus, as well as enhancing joint projects with Hitachi and other industrial partners.