Office of University Communications & Marketing

Zooming in: Electron Microscope to Fuel New Research at UNA
Oct. 4, 2010



FLORENCE, Ala. – With the funding of a $150,000 grant, the University of North Alabama’s Department of Physics and Earth Science recently purchased a state-of-the-art scanning electron microscope that will assist in future research endeavors.

Dr. Mark Puckett, associate professor of geology, said the scanning electron microscope (SEM) can go up to 1 million times the magnification of objects, while a regular light microscope can only go to 3,000 times the magnification.

“The difference between a regular high-powered microscope and this scanning electron microscope compares to the difference between a pair of binoculars and the Space Hubble telescope,” Puckett said.

Unlike a regular microscope, the SEM uses an electronic beam instead of light, which allows users to operate a narrow beam to manually track small objects.

The SEM’s high magnification and focused depth of field offers users the opportunity to do elemental analysis of objects, which was not an option before with the department’s regular light microscopes.

“This is a great thing for UNA because it’s a fundamental tool and can be used by so many different departments and businesses in the community,” Puckett said. “This instrument opens up an entire world of things we can’t even see with the most powerful light microscopes. Many research topics in areas such as biology, geology and engineering wouldn’t be possible without it.”

Puckett hopes local businesses will take advantage of the new tool for help with quality control in engineering, forensics, parts manufacturing, antiques and more.

He said that, in previous years, area scientists and researchers have had to travel to the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa to use a similar microscope of this power.

“This tool presents great potential research that is not offered anywhere else in this area,” he said.

Puckett, who plans to publish a work on microfossils within the year and use the microscope for his research, helped write a proposal for the microscope two years ago. A year later, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources awarded UNA with a Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) grant to fund the microscope.

For more information, contact Puckett at 256-765-4481 or tmpuckett@una.edu.

IMAGES AVAILABLE: For photos of UNA’s new scanning electron microscope, or for images taken by the SEM, contact the Office of University Communications at 256-765-4225 or jlwoods1@una.edu.