Grant-funded microscope to further LCI research

Jeremy Nobile

$2 million fund will bring microscope to further LCI research

The Liquid Crystal Institute’s new grant-funded equipment will take research at the institute to the next level.

A $2 million transmission electron microscope (TEM), which is funded through the grant awarded to the LCI in May, will be built for the institute in support of an initiative called the Research Cluster on Surfaces in Advanced Materials.

John West, vice president for research and dean of graduate studies, explained that an effective research institute not only has great ideas, but it must have the capacity to study those ideas. Receiving the TEM is the next important step in being able to truly understand these unique materials more accurately.

“It will allow us to get to the next level in our ability to see how the materials (liquid crystals) are shaped at the scale of nanometers,” LCI Director Oleg Lavrentovich said, “This is really the next big step of research.”

He said the TEM will be made available to all the faculty and researchers on campus whose research will benefit from its use.

Professors from areas such as the chemistry, physics and biology departments have research that will greatly benefit from the availability of the TEM as well, he said.

Lavrentovich said the microscope will be made available to researchers, but there will be a position created for a highly-trained professional who will work with the TEM full time and relay its research data back to the professors. The salary for this position will be paid by the same grant supporting the TEM.

West said the TEM will help support the direction the study of liquid crystals is taking.

“The next generation of working with liquid crystals . is understanding interfaces (how materials interact when they come together),” West said.

West said the study of interfaces is highly complex. The capability of the TEM to view surfaces at an almost molecular resolution is necessary to see what the chemistry and structure of these surfaces are.

LCI graduate student Jeremy Neal agrees that receiving the TEM is necessary in order to reach the next level in liquid crystal research.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Neal said. “It’s something we’ve needed for a long time.”

Lavrentovich said significant plans are in store for the TEM; however, the university will not receive the microscope until sometime next year.

“It’s a very complex setup,” Lavrentovich said.

The LCI is still looking at different companies to build the equipment.

The first practical TEM was built by Albert Prebus and James Hillier at the University of Toronto in 1938. Although the technology has been around for 70 years, TEMs are still evolving and they remain the most sophisticated microscopes available today.

TEM microscopy is a technique where a beam of electrons is passed through a specimen. The electrons interact with the specimen as they pass through, forming an image that is magnified and focused by an objective lens.

The image can then be displayed on an imaging screen and monitor, on a layer of photographic film, or it will be detected by a sensor such as a charged-couple device camera.

Contact sciences reporter Jeremy Nobile at [email protected].