The College of Natural Resources and Sciences Core Facility at Humboldt State University is a recently established shared-use laboratory for student and faculty research. This award will allow the addition of a modern environmental scanning electron microscope (ESEM) with back-scattered electron (BSE) imaging and energy dispersive x-ray spectrometry (EDS) and supporting sample preparation equipment to the facility, greatly increasing the range of studies that can be undertaken. Planned research activities in the biological sciences include investigations of the olfactory epithelium of amphibians, plant gravitropism, bryozoan phylogeny, bee genitalia, fungal systematics, the neurobiology and ecotoxicology of freshwater worms, the stomatal features of the world?s tallest trees, developmental defects associated with sperm protein knockdown in C. elegans, and bacterial interactions with mineral particles in acid lakes at Lassen Volcanic National Park. In the earth sciences, studies will include analyses of high-temperature, high-pressure mineralogy and petrology experiments, the microstructures and rock textures formed in active fault zones, the weathering properties of minerals and formation of soils, and the microstructure of fossil plants. In the physical sciences, studies on the surface properties of test masses will allow precise testing of the gravitational inverse-square law. Humboldt State currently has no ESEM or EDS capabilities, and is located in a rural area of northern California, far from other universities and comparable instrumentation. The addition of an ESEM will allow researchers and students interested in examination of fresh (hydrated) biological specimens, and advanced elemental, textural, and material analysis to conduct cutting-edge research.

The new CNRS Core Facility represents the first major endeavor on the HSU campus to create a true interdisciplinary, shared-use facility in the sciences. The ESEM will serve as a keystone addition to the facility by bringing together researchers from departments across the college. The instrument will enhance the experience of students in the Electron Microscopy course, as well as in mineralogy, petrology, and structural geology courses. Because the new instrument can be operated remotely, it will also facilitate outreach activities to the local community that are not currently possible. In particular, a permanent exhibit on microscopic natural history will be established at the HSU Natural History Museum, and live remote operations will be conducted there at yearly events. Training institutes for secondary science teachers over the summer will be followed in the fall by the opportunity for the teachers to remotely operate the instrument to examine specimens that their students have collected, providing a unique opportunity to high schools throughout rural northern California.

Project Report

The major impact of this project was to make a modern Environmental Scanning Electron Microscope with EDS capabilities available for education and student and faculty research use at Humboldt State University (HSU), an isolated, rural campus of the California University System, located on the Northern California coast. In particular, we acquired and installed an FEI Quanta 250 Environmental Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) with a Noran System 7 EDS system as part of the HSU College of Natural Resources Core Facility. Since its installation, the new instrument has been used for student (both undergraduate and graduate) and faculty research in diverse areas. Nine different faculty have had students working on the instrument, and to date two undergraduate senior theses and one graduate thesis have been completed using the instrument, with others currently underway. In addition, 12 presentations or posters at 6 different national meetings by students and faculty have resulted from work on the new instrument. Projects conducted to date range from studies on fossil plants, to work on olfactory epithelium of newts, the nervous system of freshwater worms, diatoms of the western Pacific, invasive species of bryozoan, soil fungus identification, and the crystallization profiles of experimental magmas. Publications based on this work are currently in preparation. The project most likely to impact the public is the work done by Dr. Sean Craig's students on the invasive bryozoan Watersipora. This is a species complex that has become a large problem for shipping due to its proclivity to establish on the hulls of ships. Dr. Craig's research aims not only to characterize the invader, but to suggest means by which biological control might be effected. The instrument has also been used to teach two courses: GEOL 482, Instrumental Methods in Geology, each fall (not taught for over 10 years previously, due to lack of suitable instrumentation), and BIOL 564, Transmission and Scanning Electron Microscopy, each spring. Students in both classes conduct individual research projects and present them in a poster symposium at the end of the semester. A total of 77 students (62 undergraduate, 15 graduate) have participated in these classes and received training on the new instrument. Outreach has included demonstration for Eureka High School science students (35 students, one teacher, one teacher assistant) during the spring semester of 2013, and a three day Science Teacher Workshop held in August 2013, with 10 teachers participating. After training on the instrument, the teachers were able to bring that expertise back to the classroom the following year, allowing their student to get acquainted with the capabilities of modern electron microscopes. In summary, this new instrument has promoted student and faculty research in a variety of fields, allowed us to train biology and geology undergraduate and graduate students in modern techniques of electron microscopy, and been used to bring advanced techniques of specimen analysis to local high school classrooms.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Biological Infrastructure (DBI)
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Robert Fleischmann
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Humboldt State University Foundation
United States
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