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Merging Emerging Technologies

September 14, 2010

Energy Dispersive Spectrometry spectrum obtained for Siderite, an iron carbonate mineral, illustrating the presence of iron (Fe), carbon (C), and oxygen (O).

As I’ve discussed in previous blogs, Ventura College is home to a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM). The SEM has been put to extensive use by classes in Agriculture, Plant Biology, and Biotechnology. It has also been used by Ventura College students working in collaboration with Coastal Marine Biolabs and UCSB. These projects have primarily involved using the instrument to obtain highly detailed images, a task at which the SEM excels.

The SEM at Ventura College, however, has additional functionality; namely, it is equipped with an Energy Dispersive Spectrometry (EDS) detector. This type of detector is used to determine the elemental composition of material. When used together, the SEM and EDS systems can provide the elemental composition of minute particles or small regions of a larger specimen.

SEM image showing specific region of the mineral Siderite probed using Ventura College's EDS detector, the spectrum of which is shown above.

Elemental composition is useful for mineral identification (as was done here), particle analysis (especially in forensic science), and for probing the purity of synthetic materials (especially in nanofabrication).

While Ventura College can readily pursue these first two applications, it’s this last application that I’d like to discuss.

Ventura College recently hosted a delegation from NanoProfessor, Inc., a company that specializes in providing nanofabrication technology to schools world-wide. Using an Atomic Force Microscope (AFM), students can deposit and manipulate tiny amounts of material to fabricate nanoscale arrays for use as molecular markers in DNA probes, biosensors in environmental sensors, or as components of nanobots or scaffolds for synthetic materials.

With Ventura College’s recent success at incorporating emerging technologies such as the SEM and the EDS systems into the classroom, we are hopeful we’ll be able to merge additional technologies, such as nanofabrication, into the curriculum as well. For this to happen, however, we’ll need additional support from the U.S. Department of Education, the Ventura Community College District, and the Ventura College community. For that reason, we’ve submitted a second STEM proposal. We’re hopeful it will be funded and, if it is, I’m looking forward to letting you hear about it here first!

Until such time, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite videos. It is beautiful, haunting, and joyful. For me it signifies science, understanding, and the pursuit of things whose meaning and purpose may be inexplicable, but to which we are drawn, none-the-less. To me, it whispers, “Keep wondering!”

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