Science & Technology

Refurbished Electron Microscope Available for USU Researchers

A disused scanning electron microscope tucked away in a campus corner is now back in service and ready to perform basic imaging functions for researchers throughout campus thanks to repairs initiated and space offered by the USU Physics Department.

The only unit of its kind on campus, the microscope is a Hitachi S-4000 cold field-emitter SEM capable of 1.5 nanometer resolution at 30 kV. It is now housed in the Science Engineering Research building, room 006.
“The microscope is useful for a variety of applications, including examination of biological and biotech materials and nanoscale devices,” says T.-C Shen, physics professor and administrator of the microscope.
Originally purchased with state funds by USU’s Biology Department in 1991, the microscope spent several years in a basement lab of the Veterinary Science and Bacteriology building. Traffic-induced vibration from 700 North compromised the unit’s imaging capability, which prompted personnel to move the microscope in 2001 to the Utah Veterinary Diagnostic Lab on 1400 North. The new location offered environmental challenges of its own, including magnetic fields from other lab equipment that further degraded the microscope’s performance. Due to lack of use, the university chose not to renew the unit’s maintenance contract after September 2007.
Recognizing the remaining value of the microscope as a research tool, Shen and his colleagues in the Physics Department’s Surface Science group submitted a proposal in February 2008 to the department and the College of Science to salvage the unit. The proposal called for relocating the microscope to the SER building, where vibration and magnetic noise levels are within specified limits, and entrusting the Physics Department with its maintenance.
“With our experience and knowledge of electron beams and vacuum technology, our personnel have the expertise to maintain the microscope and thus save the university the $20,000 annual service contract cost,” Shen says.
With help from university movers, VDL microbiologist Beverly Wareham and research technician Corey Wareham, the microscope was painstakingly transferred from the veterinary lab to the SER building and has been back online since September, he says. “Currently, the microscope can achieve its magnification limit, which is 300,000 times.”
The microscope is not equipped with a motorized stage nor does it have an X-ray spectrometer for chemical analysis.
“The next plan is to seek funding to augment this SEM with an e-beam pattern generation package,” Shen says. “With this new capability, USU researchers can fabricate novel nanoscale devices right here on campus, which opens new research opportunities.”
The microscope’s new central campus location makes it more accessible to support student coursework and outreach activities, he says.
For information about use of the microscope, contact Shen at 435-797-7852 or
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Writer: Mary-Ann Muffoletto (435) 797-3517,

image from refurbished microscope

Image from refurbished SEM of blown transistor. The top and bottom triangles are source and drain; narrow line (~150 nm) connecting them is channel. Upper right inset is enlargement (200,000 times) of hole at bottom of top triangle.

Physics professor T-C Shen

Physics professor T-C Shen is the administrator of USU's refurbished Hitachi scanning electron microscope. Now housed in Room 006 of the Science Engineering Research building, the SEM is available for use by researchers throughout campus.


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