SOE Engineer Magazine_Spring 2021

REMOTELY OPERATED SCANNING ELECTRON MICROSCOPE The National Science Foundation also awarded a $200K grant that will allow St. Thomas students to use state-of-the-art technology regardless of their physical location: a scanning electron microscope with energy dispersive spectrometer (SEM-EDS). University of St. Thomas faculty from the College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Engineering and Dougherty Family College collaborated on the grant application: Principal investigator: Dr. Thomas Hickson , Geology Co-PI: Dr. Brittany Nelson-Cheeseman , Materials Science and Engineering Co-PI: Dr. Jennifer T. McGuire , Biology Co-PI: Dr. Michele Stillinger , Geology, Dougherty Family College The new instrument can focus on an area the size of a particle of dust and determine its elemental composition without damaging the delicate sample. The SEM fires an incredibly fine electron beam at the sample, producing images 250 times the magnification levels of the best conventional microscopes. In addition to the microscope, St. Thomas will use the grant to purchase a critical point dryer to prepare sensitive specimens, such as insects and microbes.

NATIONAL MEDICAL RESEARCH GRANT Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Dr. Lucas Koerner landed a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that will be applied to create an ion channel open-source amplifier that can be used and modified to make ion channel electrical measurements. Ion channels are critical components of the nervous system; understanding the electronics of these proteins plays an essential part in understanding many neurological diseases. Complex commercial amplifiers are currently used to measure ion channels. The current commercial options require a lot of user interaction; Koerner is planning to have automated digital calibration a main feature of the ion channel open-source amplifier.

Dr. Lucas Koerner

Koerner, who was principal investigator on the grant application, originally applied for the grant in summer 2019. The reviews were generally positive; he and co-investigators Engineering Assistant Professor Dr. Thomas Secord and Biology Associate Professor Dr. Kurt Illig fixed some aspects that resulted in the successful second revision. Before coming to St. Thomas, Koerner most recently worked as a camera engineer for Apple, an experience that benefits both his students and his research. “[In that work] I needed to measure small currents accurately, which is exactly what we’re trying to do with the ion channel open-source amplifier,” he said. “It seems like a leap, but the similarities actually are there.”

St. Thomas Engineer 2021 Page 17

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