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Until now, Clarion University students and faculty have been confined by the capabilities of optical microscopes. With a recent award from the National Science Foundation funding the purchase of a scanning electron microscope, members of the Clarion science community are looking forward to expanding their research.

With a standard optical microscope, scientists can see up to 2,000 times the ability of the naked eye. That may sound like a great deal of magnification, but in the world of science, that limitation can stunt a lot of research. To see a specimen in greater detail, researchers turn to a scanning electron microscope, which is used to examine subjects up to two million times what the unaided eye can see.

The problem is that SEMs are expensive. With this in mind, science faculty Dr. Chunfei Li, Dr. Shannon Nix, Karen Spuck and Dr. Susan Prezzano applied for and have now received a federal grant for $353,530: the cost of the SEM and funding for projects related to its acquisition. The SEM is expected to arrive on campus in the spring and will be operational by the summer of 2013.

"(This) is a momentous accomplishment for the faculty grant-writers and Clarion University. These grants are very competitive, and Clarion's selection is a testament to the quality of our faculty and their research," said Joyce Overly, acting dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

In order to apply for the grant, faculty proposed nine projects in various areas of research, including physics, anthropology and biology. As the grant's abstract states, Clarion's new SEM "is expected to transform how teachers and students are trained and educated in the sciences in rural western Pennsylvania." Clarion University has never before had the ability to observe subjects at the nanometer level, an essential part of each of the nine projects outlined in the grant proposal. According to the proposal, each of the projects will now be able to "significantly advance the knowledge in their respective fields."

Apart from on-campus use, the SEM will be available to researches at the Barnes Center for Biotechnology Business Development and to area school districts for various research experiences based on the projects within the proposal.

Anticipating the arrival of the SEM next spring, Li and Nix have developed a new course that will give students theoretical knowledge and hands-on experience with the device. After completing the course, students will understand the applications of SEM technology, be able to interpret SEM images, and will be able to operate the instrument and similar devices. This course will be offered for the first time in the summer of 2013.

Clarion University is the high-achieving, nationally recognized, comprehensive university that delivers a personal and challenging academic experience.

10/5/2012 9:57 AM

Grant for electron microscope enables expansion of Clarion University research