From its beginning, the Department of Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) has been recognized for its focus on determining the structure of materials, and thus, the first high-voltage electron microscope at any American university and only the second one in the United States was installed at the University of Virginia (UVA) in 1968. With the acquisition of this 500 kV RCA transmission electron microscope (TEM) and two scanning electron microscopes (SEMs), MSE Professor Ken Lawless founded the “Electron Microscope Facility” as a center of research within the department and school of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS).

In 2004, the former Electron Microscope Facility merged with the X-ray Characterization Facility, formerly supervised by Professors Ed Starke and Sean Agnew, also incorporating the metallographic equipment and optical microscopes associated with MSE. As Professor Jim Howe, current director of the facility explains, “Since the facility now contained a variety of different types of instruments, all aimed at characterizing materials at the highest levels of resolution, the name was changed to the Nanoscale Materials Characterization Facility (NMCF).” Acquisition of the FEI Titan STEM by the NMCF in 2011 was a significant enhancement to the facility’s capabilities.

Under the direction of Jim Howe and management of Richard White, who joined the facility from R. J. Lee in 2004, the NMCF has expanded in both instrumentation and personnel. The facility is now host to two state-of-the-art scanning transmission electron microscopes (STEMs) for atomic-resolution imaging and X-ray and energy-loss analysis at the atomic level, two scanning electron microscopes (SEMs) for high-resolution imaging and compositional characterization, a combined focused ion beam (FIB)-SEM for preparation of TEM samples and cross-sectional analysis, three X-ray diffractometers (XRDs) for identification and characterization of crystal structures, a mapping X-ray photoelectron spectrometer (XPS) for determination of material surface composition and chemistry, a combined confocal Raman spectrometer/atomic force microscope (AFM) to provide chemical analysis in combination of surface structure, a Fourier-transform infrared spectrometer (FT-IR) with attachments for study of molecular bonding, an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer (XRF) for sensitive measurement of bulk composition, and a complete suite of optical instruments and metallographic preparation facilities for determining the microstructure of materials.

NMCF instrumentation is currently housed in two adjacent buildiings within SEAS: Wilsdorf and Jesser Halls. Wilsdorf Hall honors the influential pioneers of Materials Science: Doris Kuhlmann-Wilsdorf - UVa's first full time female faculty member - and her husband Heinz G.F. Wilsdorf. At the request of Dr. Greg Olsen, distinguished alumnus (MSE ’71) and successful entrepreneur, the Materials Science Building was renamed Jesser Hall  in 2020 to honor his dissertation advisor, the distinquished Materials Scientist - Prof. William A. Jesser

In June 2022, Jim Howe retired from UVa, stepping down from his position as NMCF director, and shortly afterwards NMCF administration was shifted from MSE Departmental administration to the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Prof. Art Lichtenberger, a Research Professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering and the NRAO Director of the UVA Nano-fabrication Facility (IFAB), has joined the NMCF Team as Director. Under Art's administration, the NMCF is preparing for the installation and onboarding of a new Scienta-Omicron HiPP Lab XPS System, with in situ gas and liquid high-temperature reaction cells - one of the first in the USA. We look forward to a providing continued state-of-the-art characterization services to our UVa community, academic and government collaborators, and our industrial clients.