STEM receives grant for top-tier microscope

The Youngstown State University College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics has been given a grant to purchase a microscope that will magnify organic and inorganic materials about 250,000 times more than a standard optical microscope.

The $444,555 grant from the National Science Foundation has allowed YSU to purchase the variable pressure scanning electron microscope, or VP-SEM.

Virgil Solomon, an assistant professor of mechanical and industrial engineering, said this purchase has put YSU on the brink of being a top-tier microscopic research facility.

“The new one will complement the two we already have here and will greatly expand our research capabilities,” Solomon said.

The microscope will be housed in one of several rooms being evaluated on the second floor of Moser Hall. Once the room is chosen, it will be remodeled to meet the necessary climate control standards for temperature, humidity, vibration and electromagnetic fields.

Part of the grant will be used to remodel the room, and the STEM College will cover any further expenses.

Undergraduate and graduate students in a variety of fields — including engineering, physics, forensic science and archeology — will use the microscope. Solomon stressed that it will be available to anyone willing to learn the proper skills for its operation.

“It’s not difficult to use; anyone can learn,” Solomon said. “It is very expensive equipment, and if it is used improperly, then nobody will be able to use the instrument for as long as it takes to be repaired.”

This is the fifth time that YSU has applied for the grant in six years. A major factor in the NSF’s annual selection is the size of the user base at each school applying for the grant.

Students from Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pa., will also benefit from the microscope. Pete Smith, the director of undergraduate research at Westminster College, will bring a team of students to YSU to analyze samples of various powders.

In the past, they’ve had to send samples over long distances for a high price, Smith said.

“Having access to a microscope that’s so close will significantly increase productivity and ease the process,” Smith said. “It also gives students the opportunity to have hands-on experience working with the microscope, making them more marketable when they go out into the workforce.”

For Smith, who will soon be eligible to apply for a position as a full-time professor, the opportunity to work with such advanced equipment could aid him in his career.

“We don’t have much federal grant money at Westminster, so having a nearly half-million dollar grant with my name attached to it is very beneficial for my research productivity and my career aspirations,” Smith said.

Solomon, who was hired at YSU to help expand the university as a microscopic research facility, said he is proud of accomplishing his goal.

“We’re going to have state-of-the-art research capabilities that are equal to any other university in the country, regardless of size or student base,” Solomon said.