Washington State University’s Franceschi Microscopy and Imaging Center has acquired a microscope so powerful and versatile that Michael Knoblauch, the center director, compares it to a pig capable of making wool, milk and eggs. Or, to quote his native German, an eierlegende Wollmilchsau.
Technically, it’s an Apreo VolumeScope, and it brings a suite of imaging techniques, including the piecing together of detailed three‑dimensional images with a resolution of 10 nanometers, or about 1/10,000th of the width of a human hair.
The device also uses other techniques that can help analyze the composition of materials and map crystal structures. The combination of cutting‑edge features is unique in the Inland Northwest and fitting for a facility serving scientists from fields as diverse as microbiology, human biology and zoology, plant biology, physics, geology, material and food sciences, chemistry and others, said Knoblauch.
The $888,000 machine, funded in part by the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, arrived on campus in early November. It will be ready for users on March 1, with a couple months of instrument time already lined up. It will supplement the center’s FEI Quanta‑200 scanning electron microscope, a center workhorse that over the last three years was used by nearly 100 research groups for almost 9,000 hours, or 57 hours a week.
The VolumeScope’s 3D reconstruction feature “allows identification of subcellular structures at unprecedented detail for life scientists,” according to the center’s grant application. A scanning electron microscope captures two‑dimensional images of a specimen, and a superfine knife, or ultramicrotome, shaves off ultrathin sections between images. The images are then stitched together for viewing in three dimensions.
Energy dispersive spectroscopy, or EDS, measures the x‑ray spectra‑light wavelengths unique to different elements—to identify and map the chemical composition of samples.
In its so‑called “high‑vacuum mode,” the VolumeScope’s resolution is as low as .8 nanometers, less than a billionth of a meter and an improvement over the previous resolution of 1.2 nanometers. That’s approaching the size of just a few atoms.
A third technology, electron backscatter diffraction, or EBSD, can map the crystal state of a material. This is important for determining the quality of materials like alloys, Knoblauch said.
“This instrument will allow us to perform cutting‑edge research,” Knoblauch wrote in the center’s grant application, “and will significantly increase our capabilities and competitiveness.”