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$500,000 NSF Grant Will Bring New Electron Probe to ODU Instrumentation Cluster

Research interests at Old Dominion University and elsewhere in eastern Virginia that involve the analysis of very small samples of solid materials have received a major boost from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The funding agency's grant of $500,000, together with $400,000 contributed by ODU, will enable the university to purchase a new-generation electron probe micro-analyzer (EPMA).

The NSF grant specifically supports the research of five ODU researchers:

Dennis Darby, professor of ocean, earth and atmospheric sciences, is a specialist in geological oceanography who pioneered an iron grain tracer technique that he uses like a fingerprint to determine the origin of sediment deposits in ice and on the sea floor. This leads to insights about the paths of sea ice-rafting and the collapse over time of ice sheets into the Arctic Ocean, which help us understand climate change. He recently determined that the perennial ice cover in the Arctic has existed for at least the last 14 million years.

Cynthia Jones, professor and eminent scholar of ocean, earth and atmospheric sciences, developed a technique to determine the age and geographical history of fish by studying the ultra-thin layering of their ear bones. Her NSF-supported research contributes to the management of fish stocks, and she has represented the United States on the Scientific Council to the North Atlantic Fisheries Organization.

Hani Elsayed-Ali, professor and eminent scholar of electrical and computer engineering, as well as director of ODU's Applied Research Center, works on femtosecond and picosecond laser probing of electronic and structural properties of material surfaces and thin films. He also is an expert in pulsed laser deposition.

Desmond Cook, professor of physics, is an internationally recognized leader in corrosion analysis, important for preserving steel structures such as bridges, and also for the conservation of priceless marine artifacts such as the USS Monitor. In addition, he studies nanophase iron oxides, especially goethite and akaganeite.

Abdelmageed Elmustafa, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, conducts research on the mechanical behavior of materials at the nanoscale. His projects involve new ways to analyze and improve alloys that can be used in spacecrafts and to investigate and solve a type of electrical breakdown in particle accelerator components that can limit the effectiveness of cancer therapy machines and colliders.

The new EPMA from the technology company JEOL will replace a 39-year-old, secondhand electron probe that Darby has used for more than a decade for his iron-grain fingerprinting research. He said his work measuring grain chemistry with the new instrument can be accomplished during "off hours." A lab assistant at a remote site can monitor the automated operation of the instrument during nights and weekends.

Other researchers at ODU, as well as some from the College of William and Mary, Hampton University and Norfolk State University, will keep the machine humming, and the total usage will be nearly round-the-clock, Darby predicted. He estimates that 12 faculty researchers, 21 graduate students and 58 undergraduate students from ODU and the neighboring institutions will use the EPMA during the first several years after it is installed and that user fees will pay for maintenance and management of the instrument.

The new EPMA will be part of the sophisticated College of Sciences Major Instrumentation Cluster (COSMIC) that has been housed temporarily in the Oceanography and Physics Building for two years, and which will move soon into that building's new science wing. COSMIC also includes a high-resolution 12-Tesla Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance (FT-ICR) mass spectrometer and two nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometers. With the EPMA, COSMIC instruments and equipment will represent a research investment of almost $4 million.

"The growing list of innovative research projects at ODU and other local institutions requiring an EPMA and other types of microanalyses have prompted a commitment by ODU to expand the building space and support for such equipment," the ODU researchers wrote in the grant proposal they submitted to NSF. "The requested EPMA is part of a major research infrastructure plan at ODU."

The new EPMA will boast several generations of improvements over Darby's secondhand instrument. It will provide precise, quantitative elemental analyses at very small "spot" sizes of as little as one micron, primarily by wavelength-dispersive spectroscopy. EPMAs bombard a sample with an electron beam and measure such results as scattered electrons and X-ray generation in order to give an image and chemical analysis of a sample. Commitments

ODU's new EPMA will have five wavelength dispersive spectrometers with newly developed high-intensity diffracting crystals for greater precision. It also will have X-ray mapping and map analysis software capabilities, image analysis software and "N-free" energy dispersive spectrometry capability especially useful for organic materials.

This article was posted on: August 11, 2008

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