TAMU-Central Texas shows off scanning electron microscope

By BRITTANY FHOLER

Cove Leader-Press 

 

Texas A&M Central Texas showed off what its new scanning electron microscope can do at the Third Thursday Mixer held Thursday evening in Warrior Hall.

The mixer was held jointly by TAMU-CT and Central Texas College, and sponsored by the Killeen Chamber of Commerce as part of its monthly mixer series. Guests had the opportunity to look at photos taken with the SEM while enjoying refreshments catered by the Central Texas College Catering company and desserts made by students in the Culinary Arts program. 

Marc Nigliazzo, Texas A&M University Central Texas president, explained that the university and Central Texas College are trying to place an emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) programs as well as bring attention to the research happening on the campus. 

“We thought today, as long as we don’t have anybody get sick eating something and looking at the aphid, that one way to certainly demonstrate the incredible capability of the electron microscope is to show the slides here,” Nigliazzo said. 

The mixer also helped show people that as the university, which was started in 2009, has grown, it has become more sophisticated in its capability, Nigliazzo said.  

“I mean, you don’t have a million-dollar electron microscope unless you’re doing some heavyduty research,” he added. 

Nigliazzo said that there are many students coming from Central Texas College but also from Temple College and going into the science programs, because they get to participate in things like solar energy research. 

“At most big universities, they would never get their hands on this electron microscope,” he said. 

The Scanning Electron Microscope arrived at the Killeen campus this past spring as part of a $1.5 million grant focused on solar research and funded by the University System’s Chancellor Research Initiative. The machine is located in the Data Research Lab in Texas A&M Central Texas’ Founder’s Hall and was described as a Xerox machine on steroids.  

It is used by Aida Torabi, PhD, a post-doctoral research associate in the TAMUCT Office of Research and by Taylor Harvey, PhD, the Chancellor’s Assistant Professor of Research. Harvey is the founder and former chief technology officer at Lucelo Technologies, a company that builds ultra-lightweight, flexible solar cells using solar paint and was brought to the university to lead a research team focused on solar technologies. 

After the mixer, guests had the option to walk over to the lab and sit in on a presentation by Torabi, who showed a sample of a solar cell and the magnified image on the computer screen next to the microscope. The microscope uses an electron beam rather than light to investigate a sample, allowing for a much higher magnification. A regular microscope uses light and the user’s eye looking through a lens to see the sample, Torabi said. 

“Our eye is not really capable all the time and sometimes we have to leave it to something else to do that imaging for us,” Torabi said.

The university will also be getting a portable scanning electron microscope to be used in the biology department, according to Laura Weiser-Erlandson, PhD, associate professor of Biology. Erlandson was the one who found the ladybug and the aphids pictured on the screens at the mixer. This shows that there are different applications of use of the SEM, she said. The goal with the portable SEM, which will be about the size of a desktop computer, is to go out into schools, she said. 

“What we really want to do with this other machine is do some outreach and get children really, really excited about biology and looking beyond what you can see with the naked eye,” Erlandson said. 

They could take the kids to a field and have them pick flowers and then look at the pollen on those flowers through the microscope and would be able to see the intricacies of the different pollens, she added. That experience could be the spark that makes them want to become involved in the Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics (STEM) fields, she said. 

Biology senior Tara Nawrocki said that she thought it was a huge accomplishment having the SEM on campus. 

“It’s just one more thing in this area that students can learn from and learn how to operate and look at the different techniques that are used to analyze data and different things under a microscope that powerful.”

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