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Associate Professor of Geology Thomas Hegna explains the capabilities of the new scanning electron microscope.
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Associate Professor of Geology Thomas Hegna and Associate Professor of Chemistry Brian Bellott (center) cut the ribbon on the University's new scanning electron microscope with the help of WIU administrators and the Macomb Area Chamber of Commerce Ambassadors.
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Ribbon Cutting Held for WIU Scanning Electron Microscope

October 2, 2018

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MACOMB, IL – The Macomb Area Chamber of Commerce Ambassadors were on the Western Illinois University campus Monday to cut the ribbon on a Currens Hall laboratory space that houses a new scanning electron microscope (SEM).

The microscope, which was purchased in April with a $330,500 National Science Foundation grant, was installed on campus in July. The purchase was a three-year process, headed by campus grant applicants Associate Professor of Geology Thomas Hegna, Associate Professor of Chemistry Brian Bellott and Associate Professor of Biology Andrea Porras-Alfaro.

"It has been three years of hard work," said Hegna.

The new laboratory space allows student and faculty researchers to look at their specimens in the macro, micro and nano levels. 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, Hegna added.

Hegna is also currently working with rural school teachers to get their classes involved in using the scanning electron microscope.

Since the microscope became operational, at least 10 WIU undergraduate students have used the equipment for research. An integrated science class will also use the microscope this year to examine the makeup of soil.

Before the equipment could be installed, the space had to be modified by the WIU Facilities Management division. That project was overseen by WIU Architectural Superintendent Michael Hott, who recently passed away.

The SEM purchase replaces an obsolete, three decades old microscope. The new equipment offers the ability not only to take photographs of the images visible with the microscope, but also the opportunity to analyze what elements the samples contain. Faculty said the 200,000 times level of magnification allows researchers to see the un-seeable.

The SEM also impacts 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 traveled 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."

Shannon Sutton, director of the Office of Sponsored Projects, said she is proud her office was able to provide support to the three faculty members throughout the proposal and award phases of the grant process.

"These grant awards are highly competitive, and this inter-departmental collaboration was key to their success in securing this microscope, not only for WIU, but the entire region," said Sutton.

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