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Recently installed state-of-the-art scanning electron microscope to open new research avenues for VWC students and faculty

By Leona Baker | January 24, 2012

altNeed a closer look at the teeth of a lizard or the inside of a snail’s mouth? How about a speck of dust on top of a piece of dirt on top of the smallest section of the compound eye of a fly?

No problem, says Professor of Biology Dr. Vic Townsend, the principal investigator for the grant proposal that resulted in the College’s acquisition of the Hitachi S-3400N, a variable-pressure scanning electron microscope, now the best of its kind in southeastern Virginia.

The microscope, the result of a $242,502 grant from the National Science Foundation, was recently installed in Blocker Hall, the College’s natural sciences building. The instrument will be equipped with energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy, an accessory that enables the user to determine the chemical composition of a specimen.

The microscope is housed in a relatively small room, so it will also be attached to a remote imaging system that allows viewers in another part of the building to examine specimens on a large screen.

Townsend and other VWC faculty members have been training to use the instrument since it was installed in early January. Townsend, who did his dissertation on electron microscopy, will teach a class on the topic during the spring 2012 semester. The class will be divided into three parts—electron microscope theory, imaging and elemental detection systems.

The new microscope will be available for student use under faculty supervision. It will also be made available to outside researchers.

“This is a cutting-edge research grade instrument,” says Townsend. “We’re looking at using it to support a minimum of six to 10 research projects per year at Virginia Wesleyan. This is going to be a major part of our undergraduate research program.”

Townsend plans to use the instrument for his own research on arachnids, and other science professors including Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Deirdre Gonsalves-Jackson, Professor of Earth Science Dr. Chris Haley, and Associate Professor of Oceanic and Atmospheric Studies Dr. Elizabeth Malcolm, are hoping to utilize it for a variety of projects. The microscope also has myriad potential uses in the fields of art history, anthropology, forensics, photography and more.

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