PSU makes waves with scope

A newly acquired transmission electron microscope has the university’s science community enthralled. The microscope is one of the latest technological gizmos in the world of nanotechnology.

The $1.5 million dollar microscope was built by FEI Co., a local manufacturer of electron microscopes. Portland State University’s science department received the microscope as a donation from FEI and with partial funding from Portland State.

“No academic institution in the Pacific Northwest has this microscope,” said Erik Bodegom, professor and department chair of PSU’s physics department. “It is a device everyone wants, and we have it.”

When the magnification is set to one million times, the microscope, with an embedded scanning facility and spectroscopic “tool box,” is capable of resolving individual atoms within many crystalline solids such as the si chips that current information technology is based on.

The tool box can determine the average chemical composition of a very tiny speck of matter, which may be as small as .0000005 inches in diameter.

“The engineering of such electron microscopes has reached, within the last 60 years, a level of perfection that the theoretical resolution limit is reached in the laboratory on a daily basis,” Bodegom said, quoting Nobel Laureate Ernst Ruska.

While some Japanese companies manufacture this microscope, PSU chose to purchase theirs from FEI.

Bodegom noted this decision was not only because the microscope showcases Oregon’s nanotechnology production but also because of the relative ease that is associated with doing business with a local company.

“It makes life easier,” he said.

FEI was started by Dr. Lynnwood Swanson, who worked at the Oregon Graduate Institute, where she developed crystal materials for other field researchers. Having started from nothing, the company is now worth a quarter of a billion dollars.

“It is a mutually beneficial relationship,” Bodegom said. “Traditionally these microscopes are used in semiconductor laboratories. The company wants a diversification of its uses.”

FEI’s doorway into PSU signals an entry into academic institutions and provides the company with ammunition to put it elsewhere.

The microscope can play a significant role in the lives of PSU students, as well.

Bodegom stressed the opening of job opportunities for students.

“Training on these tools makes you special,” he said. “Research that gets done with this microscope can lead to new inventions leading to new businesses and act as an economic stimulus to the area.”

Outside companies will also want to use the microscope for a fee paid to the university, which in turn generates revenue. More importantly, it will allow for students to interact with these companies and make connections with local industries, leading to increased job opportunities.

Bodegom said that companies like LSI Logic Corp., a manufacturer of chips for Sony Play Stations, and Wafertech have expressed interest in this idea.

The microscope will provide access for students on new technology and an opportunity for local companies to use PSU and its students as a resource center as well.

Bodegom said a large group of the science faculty has expressed interest in the new microscope.

“It was partly their interest in using this kind of electron microscope and also, the realization that this is going to be the future,” he said.

There is no doubt that the science faculty believes in the enormous potential that the microscope can generate for the PSU and Portland community.

“There is much excitement in many science departments,” Bodegom said. “The common belief is that the purchase of this new electron microscope will allow science and engineering departments of PSU to compete with some of the leading research universities in the nation.”