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Conference Puts Power of Scanning Electron Microscope into Focus

SEM-a scanning electron microscope-provides the equivalent of super-power vision. Its high resolution and large depth of field puts more of a specimen in focus at one time with eye-popping clarity. The user also has greater control over the degree of magnification-far more excellent than traditional microscopes.

The intricacies of using an SEM will be discussed at a daylong conference at Duquesne University on Friday, Oct. 12, for faculty, students, high school teachers and industrial scientists. Topics such as state-of-the-art technologies from Japan, 3-D aspects of SEM and industrial forensics will be featured, and a photo contest for microscopic images generated by students while using the instrument will be showcased.

Dr. Jennifer Aitken, associate professor of chemistry, received a $311,000 National Science Foundation grant to obtain an SEM to support the cutting-edge research projects at Duquesne. An educational outreach component of the grant was to extend use of the instrument into high schools. Videos, scenes from the scope and learning modules will be shared through remote access this fall with students at Central Catholic High School in Oakland and at St. Joseph High School in Natrona Heights.

Duquesne sophomore chemistry major Joseph Gault of Gibsonia, who developed and designed a lesson plan for the SEM to be used by some local high school teachers, will be featured among the scientific and industrial presenters. Gault's lesson, SEM Analysis of Aluminum Hydroxide, included a materials lists, background, objectives, concepts taught, information on the procedure and a worksheet for introducing high school students to the powers of an SEM, which they can access remotely.

Guided by Aitken and graduate assistant Kim Rosmus, Gault and others in the Bayer School developed modules to introduce high schoolers to an SEM. An introductory session looks at a penny through the SEM, teaching the power of the instrument that allows them to focus on Lincoln's eye and count all of the pillars on the coin's obverse.

A module developed by Sto-Rox high school student Emily Janicki examines and allows students to recrystalize table salt, lite salt and rock candy (crystallized sugar).

"These three modules are tied to the state standards, they're cheap experiments to run and they're simple," Aitken said. "One starts out with a pop can."

The power of an SEM, one of the most useful instruments in scientific research, is often not available to high school students. Thanks to this grant-funded program at Duquesne, area high school students and their teachers have opportunities to use this state-of-the art research device.

"As science and technology advance, student learning is expected to advance with them," Aitken said. "By introducing high school teachers and their students to cutting edge technology, we are leading the charge."

Duquesne University

Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and tradition of academic excellence. Duquesne, a campus of nearly 9,500 graduate and undergraduate students, has been nationally recognized for its academic programs, community service and commitment to sustainability. Follow Duquesne University on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.