Grant lets UWRF get scanning electron microscope

Posted February 9, 2023

The University of Wisconsin-River Falls has acquired a scanning electron microscope (SEM) for students and faculty to use through a $300,000 National Science Foundation grant.

According to Associate Professor Sam Alvarado of the Chemistry and Biotechnology Department, the main reason why the SEM was purchased is its key differences from a regular microscope.

“One of the main reasons why it was purchased was due to its distinguishable features from a regular microscope,” Alvarado said. “The key difference in (a scanning electron microscope) is that it uses the electrons to look at the sample.”

Alvarado added that one of the many advantages it has over a regular microscope is its ability to see “really small things.”

“One of the big advantages that it has over a regular microscope is just how much smaller you can see compared to a regular microscope,” Alvarado said. “Not only can the microscope see really small things, but it can also tell you the elemental composition of a sample that you’re looking at.”

Learning how to use the SEM can be complex, but Alvarado said once one does learn how to use it, it becomes natural.

“It’s not the easiest thing to learn how to use, but it isn’t super difficult either,” Alvarado said. “It definitely requires some training to master. Once you get the hang of it, it becomes like second-nature.”

In addition to being used in chemistry, the microscope can also be used in other science-related fields. Geology Assistant Professor Kevin Thaisen said the microscope can be used to look at any rock or mineral, as long as it isn’t “much bigger than a softball.”

“One way we will be using the (microscope) is to look at how the way different minerals grow and how their composition changes,” Thaisen said.

The scanning electron microscope itself weighs a little over 1,000 pounds and is a bit under five feet tall. It is currently located on the second floor of Centennial Science Hall for students and faculty to use. Once the new SciTech building is complete, it has a reserved spot on the first floor where it will be available for use.