Grant for dual electron and ion beam equipment saves trip to ORNL

FEI Helios NanoLab G3 CX Dual Beam FIB/SEM (Submitted photo)

A team of Vanderbilt researchers won a $928,786 National Science Foundation grant to purchase a piece of equipment that, for now, researchers must travel to Oak Ridge National Laboratories to use.

It’s called an FEI Helios NanoLab G3 CX Dual Beam FIB/SEM. Simply put, materials science researchers use its dual beams of focused ions and focused electrons so they can see structural and compositional details on materials down to the nanoscale.

The system also can create or interface with nanostructures for both manipulating and probing a material’s optical, thermal or electrical properties. The Dual Beam FIB/SEM allows researchers to create materials samples so thin, they can be viewed on the atomic level.

One major usage of the Dual Beam FIB/SEM is to allow researchers to create materials samples so thin that can be viewed on the atomic level with another equipment, an FEI Tecnai Osiris G2 transmission electron microscope (TEM) recently installed at Vanderbilt.

“The TEM is an extremely nice tool, one of the best in the region,” said Jason Valentine, assistant professor of mechanical engineering. “But you need to make very thin samples so you can see through them with it. Until now, Vanderbilt has no capability to make those. We have to go to ORNL.”

Currently, Vanderbilt has only a 15-year-old, single ion beam tool, incapable of making samples that small. It will be traded in on the new equipment, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Deyu Li said.

Not only will the Dual Beam FIB/SEM be used by researchers Vanderbilt – in materials science, chemistry, physics and other fields – but it also will be available to those across Middle Tennessee, including at Fisk and Austin Peay State universities. Vanderbilt University is matching the grant with $420,000.

“Materials science is inherently multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary,” Li said. “With this new equipment, we have the last piece for truly state-of-the-art electron microscopy facilities at the Vanderbilt Institute of Nanoscale Science and Engineering.”

Graduate and undergraduate students here will work directly with the Dual Beam FIB/SEM, which will be installed in the new Engineering and Science Building.

Other team members on the grant proposal are Vanderbilt Research Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy Anthonly Hmelo, Associate Professor of Materials Sciences James Wittig and Fisk University Professor of Physics Richard Mu.

Heidi Hall, (615) 322-6614