Sheri Neva, EAG Laboratories - Eurofins Material Science

Sheri Neva, 
EAG Laboratories - Eurofins Material Science
When science and art come together through the details of scanning electron microscopy, the journey is one of intriguingly beautiful discoveries. Expert microscopists like Sheri Neva intuitively know how to achieve the best image possible on small industrial samples like stainless steel. Working for clients of EAG Laboratories - Eurofins Material Science, she knows what settings work best to get the highest resolution, and how to map elemental composition to provide the data they need.

Some samples in the SEM reveal such detail that it sparks her imagination, and her artistic inspiration takes her work one step further. With the SEM as her camera and design tool, she adds effects from a computer and paintbrush to create mind boggling views of the beauty of nature she finds all around her.
We’ve been fortunate to share some of Sheri’s SEM images through the JEOL image contest over the years, so we wanted to know a bit more about her and her amazing talent to create work such as “Inclusion” showing a perfect “pearl” that stands out in the section of stainless steel. Then there are the bits of nature she explores with the SEM – from a barely visible Tardigrade (water bear) seeming to “roar” in the electron beam of the microscope, to meteorites.

She wasn’t always a microscopist or an artist, although her father and sister are both notably talented in that area. She began her career in early childhood development. When she accompanied her students on a science field trip to San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton, California, before the term STEM was widely used, an SEM image of an ant that was hanging on the wall captured her imagination and she thought, “I want to be able to do that.”

She was “all in” right from that moment.
It was back to school for two years to obtain a certificate in microscopy from Delta College, where she immersed herself in learning and experimenting. “They had to kick me out of that lab,” she says, often because she worked with the microscopes for almost as long as she wanted to be there after classes. After graduation 15 years ago, she found herself in the perfect job at SEAL Laboratories, now EAG Laboratories/Eurofins Material Science, a microscopy service lab located in El Segundo near LAX. Numerous aerospace companies send the lab their samples for imaging and analysis with SEM. She uses all the tools of microscopy, from backscatter and secondary electron imaging with EDS at a wide range of operating conditions of the SEM. While Sheri learned Auger theory at Delta College, she acquired hands on knowledge from her mentor at SEAL, and puts it to use looking at passivation layers in electropolished stainless steel used in medical devices. “The microstructure in stainless steel is phenomenal,” she notes.

There are 24 employees at her lab who work with the company’s variety of instruments, and since they appreciate her interest in investigating unusual samples and creating art. She says, “They keep bringing things in so I can take a peek.” A coworker recently found a natural salt bed while hiking, and the samples he brought back made for a beautiful image. “He had a lot, so I took a flat sample and one of the chunky bits and broke it apart for fresh fractures.” You can see her results are something of an interpretation of angles and depth of details.
She found the Tardigrade when she went hiking in Pasadena where there are waterfalls. It took a lot of trial and error to locate one in the water (she brought back six samples) then she found the best way to extract one of the microscopic creatures to image. She certainly found a challenge in how best to view this sample, but the results were characteristic of her imaginative style.

Her favorite subject remains the drain fly, or moth fly. “Once you see him, you'll understand. There is so much going on, I was surprised that the bug was so clean!” She muses that it may be because he came from out of a sink drain? “There’s hair around his eyes and he has super long scales.
A lot of people bring me bugs. Spiders are hard to get a good view of. I put a lot of sputtered gold on them - spiders usually are quite hairy."

The subject of her SEM image is just the foundation for more development of her visual interpretations. Her after-image processing can take anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 months! In her Beetle in Blue she strives for each detail of the compound eye, with each microscopic hair clearly visible. She not only uses Photoshop and other software packages, she applies a brush to the printed image using alcohol paints, such as she did on her image of a flea, and then used a kind of 3D artistic image stacking in Photoshop.

Sheri joined the LA Artists Association and has found it to be a tremendous boost to her always evolving artistic talents. Her latest venture is watercolors, and she collaborated with another artist who took her SEM image of a meteorite and painted directly on the print to create a modernistic effect. “It’s hard to hold me back!” she says, and we look forward to seeing what she does next!
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