NSF Grant Brings New Technology to IUP Students and Faculty

Posted on 7/19/2019 2:57:38 PM

IUP geoscience faculty member Nick Deardorff is certain that IUP’s latest science equipment will enhance the research structure not just at IUP, but for the region.

Nick Deardorff explains the functions of the Scanning Electron Microscope to IUP students

The Scanning Electron Microscope takes center stage as Nick Deardorff (at right) explains its functions to IUP students.

Deardorff secured a $425,829 National Science Foundation grant to purchase a Scanning Electron Microscope, which was installed at IUP in May 2019. The SEM allows for high-quality, detailed images of small objects to be magnified at very high resolutions and viewed on computer screens. The technology helps researchers identify all sorts of materials.

It’s a piece of equipment typically seen in some of the top research universities in America, Deardroff said. 

“The SEM will allow our faculty to do higher-quality research, and we will be able to train our students in microanalytical equipment that many will see in their careers after IUP.

“I want to influence as many undergraduates as possible, or at least introduce this instrument to as many as possible so they’re aware of it and, when they come up with a research project, they know it’s here for them to utilize,” he said.

The SEM is currently housed in Weyandt Hall, but it will eventually have a new home in a special room in the John J. and Char Kopchick College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics building, which is scheduled for completion in 2022.

Before IUP had this equipment, doing research with a SEM meant traveling 90 minutes to two hours to another university. 

Beyond Deardorff’s field of study, IUP’s electron microscope also has seen a steady flow of researchers this summer in biology, examining everything from dinosaur teeth to water mites.

“The machine teaches users how to develop a question and determine the appropriate methods to answer it,” Deardorff said. “That includes collecting data, analyzing that data, and hopefully answering the question all the way through to the end.”

To augment this new machinery, IUP administration and the IUP School of Graduate Studies and Research provided funding for an electron backscatter diffraction analysis machine, an ancillary instrument for the SEM that allows for more detailed study of crystallized specimens.

Deardorff is passionate about exposing others to the technology and allowing other institutions and industries to get training and use the machine. 

This summer, he has provided opportunities for colleagues and students to use the machine and demonstrated the SEM for visitors from Ramnaran Ruia College in Mumbai, India, who were on campus to study with the IUP Department of Biology. Area high school students in IUP’s Upward Bound Math and Science program also learned about projects that can be done with the SEM. (Upward Bound Math and Science program offers educational opportunities to qualified and promising Indiana County high school students.)

IUP’s SEM also has been used by a visiting student from Slippery Rock University who is examining the cooling history of Canadian rock samples.

“We know that STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields are in need of diversity and a strong workforce,” Deardorff says. “We want to be a place where high school students from the region can see how this equipment gives them experience. And I’m hoping local industries will reach out to schedule time to be trained and use the SEM.”