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NSF grant funds acquisition of electron microscope at BHSU

Area scientists and university students are the benefactors of a recent National Science Foundation grant that helped fund a $164,000 scanning electron microscope at Black Hills State University.

“It's the only one of its kind in the state,” says Dr. Mark Gabel, professor of biology at BHSU, who authored the grant for the JEOL 5600 LV. The NSF grant provided two-thirds of the cost for the microscope with the university picking up the remainder.

It replaces a 17-year-old electron microscope that was the instrument of choice for numerous research projects conducted by students and scientists throughout the region. It has been heavily used over the years. In fact BHSU offers the only electron microscopy course in the region that provides undergraduate students with an opportunity to use the sophisticated research tool.

Gabel said of the new microscope, “Its most notable capability is the low-vacuum option. A low-vacuum microscope is capable of looking at uncoated specimens, while most microscopes require the specimens to be dried and coated with a conductive substance. The vacuum feature allows scientists to observe specimens in their original condition.”

The new microscope is teamed with an energy dispersive x-ray spectrometer which allows researchers to determine an element (down to boron) which is in the specimens. It determines the relative amounts of each element present.

The microscope has 3.5nm to 5nm resolution capabilities (a nanometer or nm is one billionth of a meter). It can also accommodate fairly large specimens, up to six inches in diameter.

“I am particularly looking forward to using it for fossil specimens,” said Gabel.

Several other professors will be using the electron microscope for their research projects ranging from the study of fish brains and fungal pathogens to insect diets and concrete analysis. Researchers from federal and state agencies as well as other universities will be utilizing the electron microscope's capabilities.

Black Hills State biology professor Mark Gabel is one of several university professors utilizing the latest technology to help undergraduate students with research projects. The new $164,000 scanning electron microscope was recently purchased with university funding and a NSF grant. Gabel is assisting Jennifer Riss, a junior biology major from Rapid City, with techniques of operating the low-vacuum microscope and its energy dispersive x-ray spectrometer. BHSU is the only school in the region that offers an undergraduate class in electron microscopy.

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