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Getting a 20,000X closer look

Students say using cutting edge technology makes science exciting

Lake Oswego High School's general chemistry students are seeing the subject 20,000 times more clearly, thanks to Portland State University and LOHS teacher Keith Grosse. PSU has loaned Grosse a tool on the cutting edge of technology - a SEM, a scanning electron microscope, the same technology used by Intel, Nike and other industry giants.

'PSU has an outreach program to get high-tech tools into the high schools so kids can see what they might be working with in the field during their professional days,' said Grosse. 'This SEM is only about five years old. It's a common tool used in most every industry. It's great for the kids to have this visual tool. I'm trying to make science relative to something they use - computers - all of us use computers. The tools are changing and by using them we get to explore new worlds.'

All four sections of Grosse's general chemistry class were using the SEM for an inclass assignment before spring break. Grosse's assignment was for the students to learn to use the SEM to capture images of control materials and samples of variations of the materials. They would complete the assignment by giving an oral report on their finding.

The students made a mirror and then add a monolayer to one side. The mirror was then cut into several pieces, one of which was used as a control piece. To the other pieces a monolayer was added and then variables were added, including temperature change, amount of the monolayer and the angle at which the mirror was viewed. These differences were viewed under the SEM, which can magnify items 20,000 times, making it much simpler to see defects and greatly improve quality control.

'It's really cool to look at,' said Jonus Parrish, a sophomore in the class. 'You see a bunch of stuff you couldn't using a regular microscrope. It's so much higher (powered). You can see flaws in the mirror you didn't know were there.'

'The SEM is really fun,' said sophomore Ian McMillan. 'It's more difficult to set up than what we usually have to do. It's geared toward more high-end procedures.'

The students said they could see how valuable the SEM would be in producing items like computer chips and viewing fabric weaves.

'You can't fix what you can't see. It opens up a whole new world,' said Parrish.

Grosse said seeing the visual difference of the samples with the SEM is one way he can make science more exciting for students and hopefully inspire them. He said the SEM had been loaned to other area high schools.

'This is a tool that anyone can use,' he said. 'We hope to eventually get the tool into the elementary schools. It's a nice opportunity to expose kids to the technology and the new world. Some day some of these kids will be making things using this technology.'

Grosse has worked collaboratively with PSU's science departments on other outreach programs.



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