Imagery captured by the microbeam laboratory captivates more than the world of scientific inquiry.
The Mackay School of Earth Sciences and Engineering Microbeam Lab, established in 2015 by the Wilson Family Foundation, looks nothing like an art studio. In fact, it looks almost the complete opposite. Fluorescent lights, standard white walls, a couple of computer work stations and office chairs, and of course the two scanning electron microscopes (SEM). The larger of the two, the field emission SEM (FE-SEM), is a beast of an instrument. Standing about 7’ tall, the FE-SEM relies on an extremely stable beam of electrons under ultra-high vacuum for high-resolution imaging and x-ray analysis. This beam scans samples systematically to capture images at a scale almost incomprehensible. “It’s really hard to conceptualize,” Joel DesOrmeau, Mackay Microbeam Lab Manager and Ph.D. graduate from the Department of Geology said. “One way to think about it is to consider a typical light optical microscope in a biology lab. That microscope can achieve 100 times magnification to view “small” features to our naked eye. With an FE-SEM, we routinely image at 30, 40, and 100 thousand times magnification. Its range is from 10 to 300,000 times magnification.”
The microscope is widely used in both science and engineering for a wide range of applications including high-resolution imaging, elemental identification, texture analysis and more.
A major advantage of imaging with an SEM is the greater depth of field compared to a light optical microscope. “You can think of a secondary electron image as making a topographic map of your sample,” DesOrmeau said, “whether it’s natural or manmade materials. It’s essentially a fancy camera that can get you incredible images at scales we would not be able to see otherwise.”
There is a constant flow of researchers and graduate students in and out of the lab. And while it might not look like an art studio, the images created in the lab would not look out of place framed on a wall. In fact, they’d likely garner quite a bit of attention. The following images were taken by the FE-SEM in collaboration with College of Science researchers, but the aesthetic results are astonishing. And while the almost incomprehensible scale and abstract nature of the images can be baffling, the wonderful thing about both science and art is that you don’t have to fully understand either to be inspired.
Adorn your walls with research
The College of Science would like to offer our donors a unique way to support the College of Science. Order your very own print of one of the FE-SEM images pictured above and support faculty and student success at the College of Science. If interested, fill out the below form and the College will get in touch soon with order information.