In March 2020 we found ourselves in the midst of a global pandemic, and our schedules and lifestyles suddenly changed. For college students who were halfway through a semester, the pandemic put a stop to classes and campus life, and they had to pack up and go home. It also meant that their instructors were left with unfinished plans and had to quickly adapt to new ways of teaching online.
Students studying for a certificate in electron microscopy at Delta College in San Joaquin, California had just moved on from theory and were getting hands on experience on an electron microscope when the school’s doors had to close. Thanks to a solid foundation in the science, instructors could continue teaching though they had to modify their techniques and didn’t have the same access to the SEMs and TEMs in the lab.
“We’re dry labbing everything,” says Frank Villalovoz who is continually finding new ways to explain concepts such as EDS and keep students engaged without the feedback of the process on the SEM. Using his teaching skills, he calls on them by name to respond to questions in their online meetings held at the same time as their class would have been. Meanwhile lab manager Cathy Davis is keeping things running and videotaping work done on the resident TEM for beginners, a 100CX, so the students will be able to see but not touch. Students who are scheduled to be back in the fall will be able to put these concepts to work themselves.
Delta College was in full swing last fall and celebrating its 50th anniversary when Frank presented a paper co-authored with Cathy at M&M 2019 on the school’s renowned work in teaching new microscopists. It was a part of the Technicians Forum Round Table entitled "Fifty Years of Light and Electron Microscopy".
Meanwhile no one except Cathy has had a chance to try out the shiny new TEM just waiting in the lab. She had just signed off on the installation of a new JEM-1400 Flash TEM when everything came to a halt. In order to learn how to use the new TEM herself, she was able to connect with JEOL’s TEM applications scientist Kevin McIlwrath who resides nearby. Kevin is also helping the instructors with lectures on advanced EDX, comparison of 120kV TEMs to higher voltage (200-300kV) TEM/STEMs, and imaging and analytical tomography. Of course, social distancing prevails!
Like any proud new owner, Cathy is anxious to get the new 1400, a 120kV TEM that is probably the most popular in its class for use in schools, hospitals, research labs, and materials, to work. She had a special plastic cover made for the JEM-1400 table, and it sits pristinely in the lab, yet idle, waiting for a new semester to begin whenever life returns to a new version of normal and schedules can resume.