HMC, Pomona Professors Win Grant for Microscope

A group of professors at Harvey Mudd College (HMC) and Pomona College was recently awarded a $546,273 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for a new state-of-the-art field-emission scanning electron microscope (FE-SEM) that will be installed on Pomona's campus this spring. According to the NSF, the foundation receives about 40,000 grant proposals each year, and typically accepts 10,000 of them.

Pomona Physics Professor David Tanenbaum, the lead author behind the grant proposal, collaborated with Pomona Chemistry Professor Charles Taylor, HMC Chemical Engineering Professor Nancy Lape, HMC Biomedical Engineering Professor Elizabeth Orwin, HMC Chemistry Department Chair Hal Van Ryswk, Pomona Geology Department Chair Robert Gaines, and Pomona Geology Professor Jade Star Lackey.

To secure the NSF grant, the group had to present "a compelling case that acquisition of this instrument would advance fundamental science and engineering as well as assist in the training of future scientists and engineers,” Van Ryswk wrote in an email to TSL.

The new microscope, which will replace a thirteen-year-old FE-SEM on campus, will be available for use by all students and faculty at the Claremont Colleges through an online reservation system. Van Ryswk said that the group of professors was able to secure the grant at least in part because the new microscope will be incorporated and made accessible to the wider 7C community.

“No one of us could make the case for acquiring this instrument by ourselves, let alone finance it," Van Ryswk wrote. "By banding together, we have brought a powerful resource to Claremont."

The new microscope will enable researchers at the Claremont University Consortium to gather more precise data than they could with the old equipment. According to a school press release, Professor Tanenbaum said that the incoming FE-SEM microscope will be able to take sharper images while also allowing for faster data acquisition.

FE-SEM microscopes are often costly to operate, which leads to higher costs for researchers. However, according to Van Ryswk, the schools have adjusted for this concern.

“One of the more novel aspects of our arrangement is that we have agreed to a method of supporting the instrument whereby there will be no end user charges," he wrote. "Investigators will be able to use [the microscope] without being charged an hourly rate.”