Small Scale, Big Impact

Nanotechnology, with its ability to manipulate matter at the molecular level, is at the forefront of research in fields as diverse as organic chemistry, molecular biology, semiconductor physics and surface science. It isn’t possible without high-tech tools, such as the Atomic Force Microscope and the scanning Electron Microscope, which enable researchers to measure, image and better understand materials at the nanoscale.

To their enormous benefit, LMU students and faculty have access to these two microscopes among a suite of state-of-the art instruments at MAnE Labs — Molecular, Analytical, nano and Energy Center for Laboratory Technology — a part of the Frank R. Seaver College of science and Engineering.

“Our students, both undergrad and graduate, are getting direct experience with the AFM and SEM for class work and faculty-mentored research,” says Jessica Lyon, manager of laboratory facilities.

The SEM works by shooting electrons onto a surface and measuring the height of the bounce. It can accommodate larger samples (up to 3 inches) and forms images more quickly than the AFM, which glides a tiny probe across a surface to produce higher-resolution, three-dimensional maps. An X-ray-type attachment on the sEM also helps users identify materials.

With MANE Labs microscopist Cesar Garcia and spectroscopist Yong-Jun Li providing technical support and instruction, the instruments have been effectively incorporated into class demonstrations and ongoing research projects.

Four mechanical engineering faculty are currently using the tools to teach and conduct research. Matthew Siniawski, associate professor of mechanical engineering and graduate program director, is working with graduate student Eduardo Jimenez on bamboo composite characterization.

“The primary purpose of the project is to understand the bonding and failure modes of composite fibers to improve established production processes,” Lyon says. “The sEM images are used to measure and detail these characteristics. once the ideal formation is confirmed with sEM imaging, mechanical- properties testing follows to verify the new process.”

The project also encompasses an investigation into the feasibility of using bio-composite structures in aerospace, aviation, automotive, construction and commercial applications.