This Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) grant supports the acquisition of equipment to develop a new electron microscopy facility at The University of Montana that focuses on materials imaging and chemical analysis. This funding provides support for a variable pressure scanning electron microscope (SEM), energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDS) for micro-chemical analysis, a live color cathodoluminescence (CL) detector for imaging of luminescent materials, and a sputter coater for sample preparation. The user group includes scientists from the Departments of Geosciences, Anthropology, Chemistry & Biochemistry, Physics, Geological Engineering, and Forestry. Research applications include the petrologic examination of geologic materials, materials-based archaeology studies of lithic tools and resource transport strategies, imaging and analysis of nano-scale magnetic devices, studies involving the effect of fire ash on the hydrologic system, and documenting the nature and compositions of metal contamination in river sediments.

The faculty involved in this project are committed to recruiting a diverse group of researchers and have a track record of working with Native American undergraduate and graduate students. Undergraduate students will use this state-of-the-art technology in courses at all levels of the curriculum and for senior research projects, forming the foundation for a hands-on, active learning environment. Exposure to these techniques will better prepare students for careers in industry that rely on high resolution microscopy for materials characterization. Outreach will be accomplished through established collaborations involving the PI, co-PIs, and the K-12 community. The scanning electron microscopy facility is unique within the state of Montana and will thus operate as a regional facility for research collaboration with scientists from other universities, and regional state and federal agencies, such as the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology.

Project Report

This grant supported the purchase of a new variable pressure scanning electron microscope (SEM) housed in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Montana. The instrument is equipped with EDS, EBSD, and cathodoluminescence detectors that optimize the instrument for materials-based analysis. The instrument is capable of both high magnification imaging and geochemical and crystallographic analysis. For example, researchers can spatially map the individual chemical elements in a sample, obtain quantitative information about the chemical composition of materials, spatially map mineral distribution in a rock or examine the orientation of crystal lattices of individual minerals in geological samples. The SEM essentially integrates surface imaging, chemistry and crystallography into a single tool. This instrument is used for both research and undergraduate and graduate education. Thus far, it has supported researchers working on petrology, micropaleontology, and natural resources research. Laboratory-based activities have been developed for courses in petrology and sedimentology looking at basic geochemical analysis as well as application of SEM analysis to oil reservoir characterization. This acquisition provides state-of-the-art instrumentation for the northern Rockies region and has opened up several avenues for future interdisciplinary research projects on the University of Montana campus. Supporting equipment also purchased with grant funds includes a sputter coater with carbon rod evaporation as well as a vibratory polisher for EBSD sample preparation.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Earth Sciences (EAR)
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Jennifer Wade
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University of Montana
United States
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