. The University of Texas Pan American (UTPA), long respected as a teaching institution serving underrepresented minorities, is undergoing a transition to enhance research on campus. The acquisition of the Environmental Scanning Electron Microscope will broaden the research scope of participants to address current and new scientific problems in novel and fresh directions. Specifically, the proposed equipment will support projects to advance processing, development and characterization of nanofibers/nanowires, development and characterization of smart materials, nanoreinforced materials (including polymer based nanocomposite materials obtained by dispersing nanoparticles with different functionalities within selected polymeric matrices) and functionalized nanoporous materials. Investigations on the chemical modifications of nanoparticles and their effect on the physical properties of nanoreinforced materials, on the effect of the orientation of nanofillers (including nanocomposites and nano laden fluids), and the diffusion processes and solubility of complex fluids, polymers, and nanoreinforced materials will be studied. The activities cover a wide spectrum of programs in Chemistry, Physics, and Mechanical, Electrical and Manufacturing Engineering.

Layman Summary. The University of Texas Pan American (UTPA), long respected as a teaching institution serving underrepresented minorities, is undergoing a transition that will enhance research on campus. UTPA is growing at a fast pace and the need to support and develop faculty research careers has intensified. It is well known that by providing state-of-the-art research opportunities and by significant mentoring and supervision to undergraduates (UG), it is possible to encourage them to pursue graduate school and/or better train them as leaders in industry. This grant will be a strong foundation in fostering multidisciplinary collaborations within UTPA and among other institutions. Current research efforts in the development and characterization of nanoreinforced composites, smart materials, and functionalized nanoporous materials, as well as the development of nonwoven nanofibers/nanowires mats (with potential applications as tissue scaffolds, wound dressing, filtration, selective permeability membranes, flexible batteries, and chemical and biological protective clothing to mention some) produced by a newly developed process are hindered by the lack of the requested Environmental Scanning Electron Microscopy (ESEM). Since UTPA is a non PhD granting institution, most of the projects will be carried out by UG and M.S. students, 85 percent of whom are Hispanic and have had limited opportunities to experience state of the art research. The ESEM will strengthen existent courses and several more will be developed as a result of this funding. The instrument will foster collaborative research with small businesses as well as, training programs with the Rio Grande Valley's local manufacturing entities, an important segment of which is dedicated to the polymer industry. The project includes an exciting activity for K-12 students called "How Small is SMALL."

Project Report

Project Report for Award 1040419. Acquisition of an SEM for The University of Texas Pan-American The Scanning Electron Microscope was installed and operation started in August 2011. Research projects in different disciplines have been enhanced by the acquisition of the SEM (i.e. biology, engineering, physics and chemistry). Most of the conducted work has been in the area of nanofiber development and development of heterogeneous nanomaterials for energy storage and biomaterials (wound care, drug delivery) to mention some. The SEM has been used mostly by MS students in the Chemistry and engineering departments though several UGs students have also been trained. The SEM was also a core part of a graduate (MS) class MECE 6327 where all students were trained in groups of 3 and each student was in charge of providing a report with acquired knowledge and analysis of their selected samples. Several outreach activities have been conducted through our 'How Small is Small?' activity launched with this acquisition. K-12 visitors have been by the lab and have been provided with information about the SEM capabilities. In 2011, pictures of commonly observed items such as sugar crystals, mosquitoes, spiders, ...were taken and during HESTEC 2011 (where more than 500 people toured the lab) paper sheets were given to visitors and they were asked to match a picture with the word. During HESTEC 2012, to maximize participation, magnetic boards were hung outside the lab with pictures and kids were given markers to write what they thought the picture was part of. This activity is an on-going activity.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Materials Research (DMR)
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Guebre X. Tessema
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University of Texas - Pan American
United States
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