Nov 062008
 
Authors: Madeline Novey

After developing a high-resolution tabletop microscope that officials said was one of the Top 100 most significant technological advances for 2008, R&D Magazine awarded a team of CSU professors, graduate students and researchers the R&D 100 award last month.

The research team, led by Carmen Menoni, a CSU Professor of electrical and computer engineering, accepted the prestigious award at the Top 100 awards ceremony in Chicago, Ill., deemed “the Oscars of invention” by the Chicago Tribune, on Oct. 16.

The Top 100 award is the first awarded to CSU by R&D Magazine.

“The award is a validation of what engineering is about, in creating an innovative project,” Menoni said. “The award is telling you that you are doing the right thing as engineers.”

The high-resolution microscope, comprised of a variety of separate pieces that stretch about six feet long on a tabletop, uses high energy light from an extreme ultraviolet laser to “see” objects 1,000 times smaller than a human hair.

Developers said the microscope’s resolution and imaging technology, significantly higher than standard visible and optical microscopes used in the scientific world, will help scientists to better understand the complex features and characterization of computer chips and various types of tiny technological devices known as nanotechnology.

Menoni said that the tabletop microscope is an improvement over optical microscopes, which use light and a system of lenses like the tabletop microscope, but cannot see objects smaller than 200 nanometers. Menoni’s can see objects as small as 50 nm.

“The technology behind the microscope will increase your understanding of what happens on a nano-scale instead of relying on indirect measurement,” said Fernando Brizuela, a CSU graduate student who worked on the development of the microscope.

The National Science Foundation, an independent U.S. government agency, supported the project with an annual $4 million grant to the Engineering Research Center for Extreme Ultraviolet Science and Technology, the center at the CSU Foothills campus where the research and development took place.

In addition to a set of what Menoni called “specialized” lenses developed by researchers at Berkely, the microscope uses beams of light from an extreme ultraviolet laser invented in the 1990s by Jorge Rocca, a CSU professor. The microscope shoots high-energy pulses of this light onto objects in order to amplify the picture and retrieve what Brizuela called “visual information” about the microscopic objects.

When the extreme ultra violet light is applied to the object in short, single bursts in a very short period of time — less than a nanosecond, Brizuela said — the microscope takes different “snap shots” of the object the scientists want to view. These are then put together to create a “movie” of the inner-workings and characteristics of the nanoscale objects.

The developers agreed that the “visual information” gathered from research using the microscope will allow scientists to make improvements to various nanotechnologies in the future.

The graduate students who worked on the development of the microscope and the laser technologies said that the project provided an incredible opportunity to delve into the world of engineering and create a product that will greatly change the face of science.

“It was interesting to work on a project that brings together so many institutions,” Brizuela said. “And seeing that hard work come together; it’s a great feeling.”

As Menoni described the importance of the award to her department and to her research team, she made sure to emphasize how the microscope was a physical manifestation of an engineer’s function in the scientific community.

“Engineering is making imagination real, and that’s exactly what this award is,” Menoni said.

Senior Reporter Madeline Novey can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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