UC Merced has unveiled a microscope that can see something even smaller than a strand of DNA, making it easier for Central Valley students to do nanotechnology research, professors said Thursday.
The university’s Zeiss Gemini SEM 500 scanning electron microscope is the first of its kind installed in the United States, according to the university. It can look at fibers on a nanometer scale.
OK, so what does all this mean?
Researchers are looking to develop new technologies in areas like energy storage and disease detection, professors said, and the microscope is essential in that effort.
Never miss a local story.
For example, Melissa Xu, a 24-year-old graduate student, said the microscope allows her to do her research here rather than travel to the next closest equipment, which professors said is in the Bay Area.
For some perspective, a virus is about 50 nanometers and a single sheet of paper is about 100,000 nanometers thick.
For some perspective, a virus is about 50 nanometers and a single sheet of paper is about 100,000 nanometers thick, according to Anand Subramaniam, an assistant professor of bio-engineering. A strand of DNA is about 2.5 nanometers and about 25.4 million nanometers would stack up to be an inch tall.
The microscope, which uses electrons rather than light to see tiny objects, was purchased through the campus’s Merced Nanomaterials Center for Energy and Sensing, which was funded about a year ago with $5 million from NASA.
“We’re (looking) to improve the research capabilities of the university,” Subramaniam said Thursday.
Xu is looking for ways to develop a device that can quickly detect a virus like Zika, replacing the longer process of drawing blood and sending it off to a laboratory for testing. Diseases could be detected quickly, like when a consumer uses a pregnancy test or diabetes test at home.
“You can do it right then ... It’ll have an answer for that immediately,” she said.
The campus’s Imaging and Microscopy Facility, which is in a basement on campus, allows for anyone at the university to use the new equipment. For that matter, the microscope is also available to Valley students outside the campus.
We’re (looking) to improve the research capabilities of the university.
Anand Subramaniam, an assistant professor of bio-engineering.
Students from California State University campuses of Fresno, Stanislaus and San Jose have already done some work with the device, according to professors.
During the unveiling Thursday, 17-year-old Luis Garcia looked on while college students went over their research. The soon-to-be senior at Golden Valley High School is one of the seven high school students involved in a summer research internship program for economically disadvantaged high school students called SEED.
Garcia, the son of a construction worker and homemaker, said the studying he’s done in the sciences has him eying a computer science education at Stanford University.
“I think it’s really interesting,” he said, “and I have a lot of fun getting to work with this advanced equipment.”