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Open House Set for New Microprobe Laboratory

The new Microprobe Laboratory at Old Dominion University, anchored by a state-of-the-art electron probe micro-analyzer (EPMA) that can give scientists large amounts of information about very small samples of solids, will host an open house from 4-6 p.m. May 8.

All members of the ODU community and the general public are invited to the event to see the EPMA in operation, hear from the researchers who will use it and learn how the new instrumentation be used in a wide range of research.

Acting President John Broderick, Provost Carol Simpson and Vice President of Research Mohammad Karim will attend the open house. The facility is in Room 1102 of the Physical Sciences Building Phase II, which was formally opened April 21.

Dennis Darby (pictured), a professor in ODU's Department of Ocean, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences who will supervise the laboratory, said the new EPMA, which is valued at $1.2 million, is one of the most expensive analytical tools on campus. It was purchased with a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and university funds.

Research interests at ODU and elsewhere in eastern Virginia that involve the analysis of very small samples of solid materials will get a major boost from the acquisition of the EPMA and the lab's opening, according to Darby.

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

• Darby, 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. His NSF-supported work is closely involved with climate change, especially the climatically sensitive Arctic Ocean.

• Cynthia Jones, professor and eminent scholar in 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.

• Hani Elsayed-Ali, professor and eminent scholar in Electrical and Computer Engineering, as well as director of ODU's Applied Research Center, works on structural properties of material surfaces and thin films, and 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.

• Abdelmageed Elmustafa, assistant professor of mechanical engineering who also is affiliated with the Applied Research Center, conducts research on the mechanical behavior of materials at the nanoscale. Some of his work involves new ways to analyze and improve nanoscale material properties of electrical breakdown in RF cavities and alloys that can be used in spacecraft.

The new EPMA from the technology company Cameca will replace a 39-year-old, secondhand electron probe that Darby has used for nearly two decades for his iron-grain fingerprinting research. He said his work measuring grain chemistry with the new instrument can be accomplished during "off hours." The new EPMA is highly automated and operators can monitor and alter its operation from remote computers any time of the day or night.

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; user fees will pay for maintenance and management of the instrument.

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.

ODU's new EPMA has 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 energy dispersive spectrometry capability especially useful for organic materials. Thus it not only performs analyses down to the trace element level but produces detailed views of the distribution of elements in materials at the micron level.

This article was posted on: April 27, 2009

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