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From Bee Brains to Snowboards, Materials Characterization Lab Can Study It

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

by Krista Weidner

Stroll through the serene garden at the entrance of the Millennium Science Complex on the University Park Campus, and it will give you no hint of what’s happening directly beneath your feet. Those shrubs and winding gravel pathways serve as the roof of the Materials Characterization Lab (MCL), where researchers collaborate to solve the wide range of materials-related problems that come their way from within the University and beyond.

“We’re a collection of instruments and people,” says Josh Stapleton, operations manager of the MCL, which is part of the Materials Research Institute. The lab’s array of instruments and capabilities, including electron microscopy, surface analysis, molecular spectroscopy, and x-ray scattering, allows users to evaluate aspects of materials such as composition, structure, and electrical conductivity. And the lab’s staff has the expertise to handle everything from basic hands-on training of students to real-world industry applications. In an average year, the lab sees more than 1,000 users from about 40 Penn State departments and 100 external organizations, including industry, academic institutions, and government.

“We’ll help you figure it out”

The MCL operates as a shared user facility. “That means that—no matter what discipline you’re in—if you’re doing research and the instrument you need lives in our lab, you can come to us,” Stapleton says. “We’ll help you become a trained, proficient user of that instrument.” While many researchers approach the lab knowing exactly what instrument they need, others simply present their problem and MCL staff guide them to the technology that can solve it.