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Pictured is a trilobite from the Upper Cambrian Weeks Formation, west-central Utah, courtesy of Thomas Hegna.
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Pictured are fungal hyphae (cells) of a novel fungus isolated in Associate Professor of Biology Andrea Porras-Alfaro's laboratory.
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WIU Awarded NSF Grant for Electron Microscope Purchase

September 21, 2017

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MACOMB, IL – Students across the academic disciplines at Western Illinois University will benefit from a newly-awarded grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Seven WIU faculty collaborated on the application to win the $330,544 grant for Western. The funding, from the NSF's "Major Research Instrumentation" program, will allow for the purchase of a scanning electron microscope (SEM) for use by students and faculty

The primary grant applicants included Assistant Professor of Geology Thomas Hegna, Assistant Professor of Chemistry Brian Bellott and Associate Professor of Biology Andrea Porras-Alfaro. Bellott and Porras-Alfaro were contacted by Hegna three years ago to join in the grant application effort to bring the new equipment to Western.

According to Bellott and Porras-Alfaro, the high definition microscope will benefit the classroom experience and research opportunities for students and faculty in multiple WIU departments, including biology, chemistry, physics, geology and sociology and anthropology.

The purchase will replace an obsolete microscope the University bought more than three decades ago. The new equipment offers the ability not only take photographs of the images visible with the microscope, but also the opportunity to analyze what elements the samples contain.

"The old microscope would only take pictures, then they had to be developed using chemicals and a darkroom," said Porras-Alfaro. "The new microscope will allow students and faculty to not only handle the samples, but also to be critical of what they are seeing Anyone who looks into the microscope is traveling to a world no one can see. It changes your perspective on what you are doing. At 200,000 times, the level of magnification allows you can see the un-seeable."

The microscope will also impact the University's Research Inspiring Student Excellence (RISE) program, as well as one-on-one faculty-student collaborations throughout numerous departments. Prior to the grant award, Bellott said faculty and students had to travel to Peoria or Iowa to use this type of equipment.

"For students with an interest in this type of science, it turns that interest into a passion," said Bellott. "This purchase moves us above our peers who don't have this type of equipment."

The addition of the microscope will also present opportunities to reach off campus to interest students in science during their primary and secondary education.

"There is outreach with local high schools built into the grant, as well as opportunities for arts and sciences summer camps," said Porras-Alfaro. "This microscope will show students a different picture of the sciences."

Now that the grant has been awarded, the University will seek bids for the purchase. The hope is to have the new microscope in place for the Spring 2018 semester. A room has been set aside in Currens Hall for the equipment's placement.

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Office of University Communications & Marketing