The Kimmel School receives a high-tech microscope for a new materials research laboratory


Western Carolina’s Kimmel School of Construction Management and Technology recently established a materials microscopy research laboratory made possible by a donation from the US Conec Corporation in Hickory. The centerpiece for the microscopy laboratory is an advanced scanning electron microscope that views objects at a higher magnification than other types of microscopes. By shooting electrons at the surface of an object, which is in an airless vacuum, the microscope can show viewers the object’s surface at a closer level, as well as provide three-dimensional features using scattered electrons and gamma rays bounced off the surface. The microscope is valued at $55,700.

Electron Microscope

Jason Proffitt gets valuable hands-on experience with an advanced
scanning electron microscope donated to WCU by the
US Conec Corporation.

“With this microscope, we can look at submicron-sized features of metals, plastics or anything else,” said Phillip A. Sanger, director of WCU’s Center for Rapid Product Realization and associate professor of engineering technology. “Typically, an optical microscope can only provide two-dimensional views and at much less magnification. The Rapid Center has served more than 200 companies in the region by helping create needed products. “We are the engagement arm of the Kimmel School,” said Sanger. “We work with the outside community, building relationships with companies to help them create the new products they need to grow.”

The center has collaborated with US Conec on several occasions. “We have worked with the Kimmel School successfully for several years and watched the school’s capability grow, so we naturally thought of them first when we decided to donate the microscope,” said Bill Blubaugh, president of US Conec. “The microscope is very versatile in design projects and in developing manufacturing processes.”

WCU faculty, staff and mentored students will work with the microscope to examine the end results of their projects. The recently installed Oxford Laser machining system creates submicron surface features that can only be seen with the new scanning electron microscope. “Our goal is to move an idea into a product quickly,” said Sanger. “With access to the scanning electron microscope, we now can evaluate our products at a higher magnification.”

In addition to benefits in the classroom, the scanning electron microscope will help students once they graduate from WCU. “Having experience using a scanning electron microscope provides a broader base of skills to students and makes them more attractive to manufacturing companies that require engineers,” said Blubaugh.

Sanger agrees. “In many industries, a scanning electron microscope is like a wrench or a screwdriver, because it’s an integral part of the engineering process,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for WCU students to get acquainted with a state-of-the-art tool to prepare them for their careers, and it lets them see objects at a level the naked eye never will.”

For more information about WCU’s microscopy laboratory or the Center for Rapid Product Realization, contact Sanger by telephone at (828) 227-7368 or via e-mail at sanger@wcu.edu.