Across disciplines ranging from biomedicine to consumer electronics to national security, nanoscience is contributing to breakthroughs in science and technology. This Major Research Instrumentation award provides funds for the acquisition of an environmental atomic force microscope (AFM) called the Asylum Research Cypher ES, an extremely versatile, high-speed, high-resolution instrument for imaging, probing, and manipulating materials and processes in fluids at the nanoscale (billionths of a meter). University of New England (UNE) and regional university faculty, staff, and students in biology, marine science, chemistry, physics, and biochemistry will use this instrument to study a wide range of natural and engineered biomaterials. The instrument will enhance research productivity and provide students with valuable hands-on training on state-of-the-art microscopy techniques. UNE seeks to recruit a diverse and talented student population in one of the least ethnically diverse states in the country. The majority of UNE students are women, and many represent the first generation of their family to go to college. By reaching out to this underserved population the project will make a tremendous impact in providing high quality educational and professional training opportunities. To enable students to better appreciate relationships between biomaterials structure and function, the project will use 3-D printing to create models of nanoscale structures from AFM data that can be handled and touched. The integration of AFM and 3-D printing facilitates an especially exciting opportunity in the introduction of nanoscale structures and nanotechnology experimental techniques to people who are blind or visually impaired. The training takes advantage of a broad range of UNE faculty and staff expertise, including nationally-ranked institutional excellence in online education.

The Asylum Research Cypher ES environmental atomic force microscope (AFM) replaces aging hardware and complements modern imaging methodologies in the Microscope Core Facility (MCF) at the University of England (UNE). This microscope will increase research productivity and educational quality in Maine through provision of a unique regional environmental scanning probe microscopy resource. The Cypher ES will allow for the use of a wide variety of near field probing (ultra-high resolution, elastic, magnetic, electric and Kelvin probe forces) and fast scanning rates for diverse research questions including examining microbial biofilm and sheath formation, characterizing topographic and viscoelastic properties of environmentally-sensitive protein- and polymer-based nanomaterials, and exploring the architecture and composition of mineralized arthropod cuticle. The modular design of the instrument means that it is expandable to add new capabilities as needs arise. Training of UNE students, staff and faculty in AFM theory and practice will take place through a hybrid of online, face-to-face, and supplementary macroscopic 3-D printing instruction. The instrument will serve as an attractive tool to increase collaborative research, e.g., with colleagues at the University of Maine, Orono, and the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in Boothbay Harbor. This instrument will be a unique resource for biomaterials characterization in northern New England.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Materials Research (DMR)
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Leonard Spinu
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University of New England
United States
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