New NOVA center at WKU home to rare microscope

Cameron Koch

WKU’s recently opened NOVA Center in the Center for Research and Development houses a rare breed of microscope, making WKU the only university in North America with access to such equipment.

WKU acquired the microscope partly by chance, said NOVA Center Director Edward Kintzel and Gordon Baylis, vice president for Research.

The Large Chamber Scanning Electron Microscope (LC-SEM) featured in the NOVA Center was originally the property of Y-12, a national security complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn.

Kintzel was conducting postdoctoral research at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory when he found out that the LC-SEM was being made available for donation to non-profit entities. Kintzel jumped at the opportunity and claimed the technology for WKU.

However, once the piece of equipment was secured, it needed to be transported, and a facility to go to.

The federal and state governments, as well as the university, helped pay for the costs of moving the equipment and building the new facility, which began construction in the fall of 2009.

“The thing about luck is you have to be prepared to take advantage of it,” Baylis said. “We were lucky. We took advantage of it.

“Half a million dollars later we got a free thing,” Baylis added jokingly, though according to Kintzel, the microscope was purchased by the government in 2005 for use at Y-12 for $3 million.

The Nondestructive Analysis (NOVA) Center is located at the Center for Research and Development on Nashville Road and allows researchers to analyze large samples with microscopic precision without breaking down or destroying the sample itself.

“We can do everything that conventional microscopes can do, but we can do more,” Kintzel said.

Kintzel provided examples for the types of samples the LC-SEM could analyze that other microscopes couldn’t, such as one-of-a-kind pieces of art or large expensive parts that would be too costly to break down and analyze.

By using the LC-SEM’s suite of instruments, much can be learned about the individual samples, ranging from surface analysis to elemental composition.

Researchers can also analyze large groups of small samples at once because of the LC-SEM.

Dave Tatman, General Motors Corvette Plant Manager, talked at the NOVA Center’s opening ceremony about how already researchers at the Corvette plant are working with Kintzel on looking at paint quality.

Starting with local business such as the Corvette plant, Kintzel said they will work their way towards building relationships on the state and national level once it becomes known what the center is capable of.

“The great thing,” he said, “is that nobody else in the U.S. can do these kinds of measurements that we can do.”