Texas Undergraduate Students Gain Advanced Biomedical Research Experience

Most people have heard of the Hubble Space Telescope. Now flip that idea and direct it at the atomic level. In a new National Science Foundation (NSF) grant, principal investigator, Dr. Neda Habibi and students from Northwest Vista College in collaboration with the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) will have an opportunity to use advanced and powerful electron microscopes for undergraduate research projects.

Transmission electron microscope at Sandia National Laboratory’s (CINT) Center for Integrated Nanotechnology. Photographer Donica Payne. Photo by Science in HD on Unsplash

The Biomedical Engineering (BME) project involves working with biomedical devices, cell culturing and microscopy techniques. The research projects will involve creating new types of anti-cancer drugs and tissue scaffolds for combating cancer and improving tissue regeneration. The set of techniques skills that students will receive will be cell culturing, electrospinning, working with advanced nano and micro characterization techniques such as FESEM, and TEM (see “Getting Technical” below).

Extending the success of an existing NSF Advanced Technological Education (ATE) grant, the Alamo Institute for Materials Technology (AIM-TEC) at Northwest Vista College will receive additional funding to continue building workforce opportunities for Alamo college district students.

In the original NSF ATE grant, Northwest Vista College professors created AIM-TEC to create a self-sustaining and replicable regional workforce model that leverages local resources and partnerships to address the critical need by industry for quality technician education and training in advanced materials technology. This new BME project will place students in research projects at two main locations, Biomedical Engineering Department at UTSA and Tower Semiconductor.

The results of the research project will help students to locate in a workplace research facility or transition and continue with higher education into BME undergraduate programs. The project aims to recruit students from minority, unrepresented and female students to participate in the research experience. Thanks to participation within the Micro Nano Technology Education Center and mentorship from MNT-EC Center Director, Dr. Jared Ashcroft, this new project is giving students around the USA more opportunities to explore the micro nano technology industry.

Getting Technical:
FESEM: Field emission scanning electron microscopy can magnify at ranges of small (10x) up to massive (300,000x), with incredible depth of field. FESEM is a more advanced SEM (Scanning Electron Microscope) that uses a focused beam of electrons to create an image. As the electrons interact, they produce a signal rich with information about the surface (topography) and makeup or composition of that sample. FESEM microscopes are capable of scanning down to 1.5 nanometers (nm), with less distortion and better resolution.

TEM: Transmission electron microscopy is another analysis technique using an electron beam to transmit through a specimen to form an image. Similar to FESEM, this method also captures how electrons interact, magnify it onto a screen, film, or increasingly with image sensors.

Hat tip to Vac Coat Ltd for its explanation of FE-SEM as well as to various Wikipedia pages across the history of microscopes.