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SEM Outreach, Discovery and Collaboration at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery

A JEOL NeoScope benchtop scanning electron microscope (SEM) currently on loan at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery is serving all levels of researchers and scientists-in-training—some as young as six years old.

More than 50 researchers from UW–Madison's biomedical engineering department and Materials Research Science and Engineering Center, as well as NCD Technologies, a local startup company that performs diamond coating for microtools, have used the NeoScope in the shared instrumentation lab since April. Additionally, more than 500 middle and high school students have seen live images during education outreach field trips.

Science outreach is what Discovery is all about, and it brings in the local community through its Town Center, partners with groups such as the Boys and Girls Club and runs a K-12 outreach program.

The NeoScope offers another way for Discovery to reach out to researchers, educators and community members.

"This summer we have a high school teacher who is going to work on curricular development using the NeoScope,” reports Lab and Outreach Manager Troy Dassler. “We also have software that allows classrooms from around the country to send in samples and remotely control the NeoScope to capture images. It should be a great new way of advancing science education for high school students from around the country."

Hands-on SEM imaging also is part of the program for some of the children. "Our youngest user is a six-year-old who used the NeoScope to image his bug collection for a school science project," Dassler says.

A key user of the NeoScope is a university tissue engineering lab, which is using it to help design bionates, polymer bio-nanocomposite scaffolds for tissue engineering.

"It really is amazing that it has gotten this much use in the two months that it has been set up," Dassler says. Users new to microscopy catch on very quickly. "The six-year-old at first didn't quite get how to move the stage. Then he said, 'Oh, it’s like an Etch A Sketch!' and he moved the sample around until he got it into focus."

The Discovery facility was completed about a year and a half ago, says Dassler, and an open house was held for researchers around the campus. A science festival introduced the program to the local community. It's all part of the university's initiative to serve the area as a "research greenhouse," foster a creative atmosphere and encourage collaboration. Providing access to the newest and most advanced equipment like the NeoScope helps Discovery ensure that technology complements the work of researchers, the UW–Madison campus and private industry partners.