FORT WAYNE — In peering at the extremely small, IPFW sees big possibilities.
After the breakdown of an older microscope, IPFW was able to buy a new scanning electron microscope with the help of a large donation from a professor and her family.
The piece of equipment cost about $300,000 – along with about $30,000 a year in maintenance.
The Argast Family Imaging Lab at IPFW houses the microscope and bears the name of geology professor Anne Argast, whose family contributed about half the money needed for the purchase.
“It was an important investment we wanted to make,” Anne Argast said.
The university picked up the remainder of the tab and has committed to paying the annual maintenance costs, but Argast said that through community partnerships, the lab is close to becoming self-sufficient.
The microscope uses electrons to produce highly magnified images, allowing for chemical and other analyses, Argast said. The newer version is also easier to use for those without technology experience, she said.
Argast said the device will support faculty and student research, better prepare students for the workplace and provide a way for local businesses to partner with the university.
The microscope’s ease of use was important because Argast hopes to entice area industries to use the equipment or pay for faculty or students to analyze samples.
The lab has already set up a partnership with Fort Wayne Metals to conduct failure analysis on parts to determine where and why a part fails.
Larry Kay, director of technology at Fort Wayne Metals, said the company was considering acquiring its own microscope when Argast reached out about a shared commitment. Kay said the company agreed to a certain amount of work per year. He said he couldn’t provide an exact amount but estimated it would be between $25,000 and $30,000 worth of work, mostly for characterizing raw materials, process development and failure analysis.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for local businesses to interact with the university,” Kay said.
The commitment brings in money for the university to pay for maintenance costs, which saves money for Fort Wayne Metals. Kay said the company previously sent samples to Minneapolis to be analyzed. The partnership saves in transportation and delivery costs and provides information faster. He said it could also give Fort Wayne Metals engineers access to the high-quality equipment.
“We’re not just taking money. We’re providing a service,” Argast said of the partnership. “It’s the kind of pattern I hope we can begin to foster in the Fort Wayne area.”
Karen Berka Bruewer, a limited-term lecturer in the department of public policy at IPFW, teaches an introduction to criminalistics course and always likes to give students hands-on experience when she can – because not everything is as it appears on TV shows like “CSI” and “Law and Order,” she said.
For a lecture on firearms, she usually just showed a video, until Argast contacted her about analyzing gunshot residue kits.
“Students get to see this huge instrument, practice and play with it,” Berka Bruewer said. “It’s an experience not every student gets to have.”
Berka Bruewer said it was fascinating to see how the microscope could be used for a criminal justice course, and she already has ideas for other uses like soil analysis and damage to a door frame in the event of a break-in. She hopes to continue to integrate these types of experiences into her curriculum for students.
“The opportunity for any kind of practical experience is always really good for the students,” Berka Bruewer said. “Lecturing isn’t always effective.”
Argast said her geology students can also benefit from using the microscope. She said most universities similar in size to IPFW have this kind of technology, so it was important to offer her students a similar experience.
“(Having the microscope) means the opportunity to participate in science and technology at a level appropriate for a university education,” she said. “We’re preparing students with skills they need to be employable in a technical workforce.”