Micro-Notes from NMCF

News, images, observations and tips from the microscopy team at UVA's Nanoscale Materials Characterization Facility

    NMCF Senior Scientist Dickie Named Chair of “Small Molecule” Scientific Interest Group

    December 03, 2020

    NMCF XRD & XCT Specialist Dr. Diane Dickie has been elected as the 2021 Chair Elect and 2022 Chair of the “Small Molecule” Scientific Interest Group for the American Crystallographic Association (ACA). The ACA is a  scientific organization founded in 1949 and dedicated to the promotion of atomic-scale molecular structure research. ACA's mission is to further scientific interactions that "will advance experimental and computational aspects of crystallography and diffraction. Understanding the nature of the forces that both control and result from the molecular and atomic arrangements in matter will help shed light on chemical interactions in nature." More information about the ACA and the activities of the more than one thousand members can be found on their website.

    Congratulations Diane!


    Ramped up Remote NMCF Instrument Training Makes the News

    November 09, 2020

    University of Virginia School of Engineering students, faculty and professional research staff now have an agile and safe way to train on sophisticated instruments housed within the Nanoscale Materials Characterization Facility.

    Lab manager Richard White created specialized instrument training videos featuring facility instrument scientists. Then, White and information technology specialist Ig Jakovac developed Zoom remote-training methodology and “driver’s tests” that allow users to complete required training and certification while following COVID-19 protection protocols.  

    Remote training on seven instruments in the Nanoscale Materials Characterization Facility began the first week of September. By the end of October, 12 students and post-doctoral researchers passed their driver’s tests and are now at work; remote training can now be completed on all the instruments.

    Cole Love-Baker, a Ph.D. student of mechanical and aerospace engineering, completed training on the Quanta 650 scanning electron microscope. Love-Baker works on the fabrication of carbon fibers, advised by Rolls-Royce Commonwealth Professor Xiaodong (Chris) Li in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

    Carbon fibers are a light-weight but expensive material used in the automotive industry; Love-Baker focuses on designing low-cost precursor materials such as polymers, which could make carbon fibers more attractive for military, aircraft and aerospace applications. Love-Baker’s research involves a lot of experimental work, including synthesis, mechanical testing, spectroscopy and microscopy.

    “The SEM is essential to the investigation of our carbon fibers,” Love-Baker said. “With high-precision measurements of a cross-sectional area, we can accurately characterize the fibers’ mechanical properties and make qualitative statements about the fibers’ structure and composition.”

    Love-Baker found a lot to like about the training experience and the training videos especially. He could observe how to operate the instrument without having to stand in close quarters with White or Joe Thompson, specialists in electron microscopy. After he reviewed the training videos, Love-Baker was ready for remote training, culminating in his driver’s test on the scanning electron microscope, evaluated by White and Thompson.

    “Richard and Joe do not go easy on us; we need to demonstrate that we understand both the functional theory and actual operation of the machine,” Love-Baker said.

    White and Thompson asked Love-Baker to lead them through the training session to prove he would use the machine correctly, from system checks upon entry in the lab to staging and imaging as well as trouble-shooting. Monitoring Love-Baker’s actions over Zoom, they could see how he was operating the instrument and the adjustments he was making.

    The driver’s test is also a learning experience. “They let me make mistakes and showed me how that affected image quality and other factors,” Love-Baker said.

    This creative combination of training videos and Zoom allows students to complete instrument training on-demand to meet research group publication deadlines and sponsored research milestones, while keeping their own course work on track.

    “The SEM will be crucial to my success here at UVA,” Love-Baker said.

    UVA Engineering Executive Dean Pamela M. Norris also had good things to say about this innovation. “I am proud of the Nanoscale Materials Characterization Facility and all of our research teams, which have risen to extraordinary challenges this year,” Norris said. “This type of innovation, along with excellent collaboration among our faculty, staff, students and school leadership, has positioned UVA Engineering to be even stronger when we emerge from this pandemic. It is exciting to see the bold ideas that will have a truly positive impact on society.”

    Learn more about UVA Engineering’s bold ideas and research to combat the pandemic by clicking here.

    NMCF Users Meeting for Phase 1 Policies

    June 24, 2020

    NMCF Phase 1 Startup Meeting to Clarify New Safety Procedures

    NMCF Manager, Richard White, will be hosting a remote informational meeting for all NMCF instrument users to clarify the new Phase 1 safety procedures that have been instituted. Please join Richard for a ZOOM Meeting on Monday, 29 June 2020 at 10AM for information and discussion on current NMCF instrument use. Connect via the Zoom Link below:

    Topic: NMCF Phase I Policy Meeting

    Time: Jun 29, 2020 10:00 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)

    Join Zoom Meeting:


    Due to the COVID 19 virus the NMCF will be closing Friday afternoon, March 20, 2020.

    March 20, 2020

    Due to the COVID 19 virus the NMCF will be closing Friday afternoon, March 20, 2020.


    This is for the safety of the Staff and Students and to lessen your risk to exposure.


    We will announce when we are planning to reopen the facility for use again.


    Thanks for your Patience and understanding during these difficult times.


    POSTPONED: XPS Peak Fitting Class with Prof. Reinke

    March 09, 2020

    XPS Quantification and Peak Fitting Analysis Course

    What: Informal lecture class and discussion concerning different approaches to XPS data analysis led by Prof. Petra Reinke. Shockingly, peak-fitting all data is not always the best route to take! And how to use fitting to extract most from your data. 

    When: Thursday March 12th from 4-6 pm  (There might be pizza....)

    Where: Wilsdorf Hall Room 101

    If you  have  a specific question, there is still time to add it to the discussion:


    Note: This course will be recorded for those that cannot make it. No specific software will be taught - mostly because preferences differ - and there are at least three different programs in  use: CasaXPS, Multipak, and KolXPD.






    Pristine Apollo soil samples examined with NMCF's state-of-the-art X-ray photoelectron spectrometer (XPS)

    September 09, 2019

    To the Moon!

    In preparation for future Moon missions, NASA scientists stored away small quantities of returned Apollo samples in special containment vessels for later analysis.These containment modules were devised to meticulously preserve fragile and transitory sample characteristics (e.g., solar wind volatiles, volatile coatings). Fifty years later, with advent of new and more sensitive analytical techniques, these vessels will be opened and the lunar core samples analyzed on our imaging XPS . UVa's NMCF will be part of that process, as Research Scientist Catherine Dukes, studies the volatile species deposited on the surfaces of volcanic pyroclastic grains found at different depths within the lunar core tube. 

    Research scientist Catherine Dukes inserts a vacuum tube into an X-ray photoelectron spectrometer to get a precise look at lunar material. (Photo by Chris Tyree)

    Research scientist Catherine Dukes inserts a sample using the vacuum transfer vessel into an X-ray photoelectron spectrometer to get a precise look at lunar material. (Photo by Chris Tyree)

    We're on the move! NMCF Raman/AFM and Hardness Testing instrumentation have relocated.

    July 31, 2019

    NMCF Raman/AFM and Hardness Testing instrumentation have relocated.


    1) UVa's Raman spectrometer with integrated AFM has moved from the second floor of the Materials Science Building (MSB) to the first floor, MSB 142.

    2) All hardness testing instrumentation has relocated to MSB 162.

    3) The post-processing computer for XPS analysis has also relocated to MSB 162.


    Microscopy Competition: Science as Art

    June 14, 2019
    Cropped Hanagasumi (Scene with Many Cherry Blossoms).jpg

    Science as Art: Microscopy Image Competition (2019)

    Each year the Materials Science and Engineering Graduate Student Board hosts a competition for the most stunning images in electron or optical microscopy taken on NMCF instrumentation. The images are evaluated not on their scientific merit, but on their artistic aesthetic. This year's winning micrographs are all scanning electron microscopy images taken using the Quanta 650 or 200 LV SEM instruments. Congratulations to all who participated! And the winners are......