Imagine having to sign up for a warranty service plan that costs $750,000 per year.
That’s what the $15-million Canadian Centre for Electron Microscopy at the A.N. Bourns Building at McMaster University has to deal with annually because of the fragile, intricate, state-of-the-art microscopes and spectroscopes it uses.
“These instruments are incredibly complex, and from different manufacturers. It is not possible to have someone internal that can repair all the instruments,” says Glynis de Silveira, manager of the centre.
So sensitive are the 12 viewing technologies housed at the facility that special wiring had to be used to limit electromagnetic interference. When LRT plans called for public transit to pass near the centre, scientists said the city would have to find another route, explaining that the vibrations and electromagnetic fields would wreak havoc with the centre’s sensitive instruments.
The centre’s managers say they are pleased with a $1.4-million funding announcement from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) that will help to offset maintenance costs over the next three years.
The foundation says technologies used at the McMaster-based centre “are unique in Canada and among the best in the world.”
The centre’s most powerful microscope is the Titan 80-300 Cubed, which allows researchers to look at the structure of materials at an unprecedented high resolution.
McMaster was the first university in the world with such a high-calibre microscope, the foundation says.
In fact, the Titan has been dubbed the Hubble of microscopes. Like the Hubble Telescope, which has made all kinds of discoveries with distant stars and galaxies, the Titan allows researchers to view materials at an atomic level, measure their chemical state and look at the electrons that bind them together.
While the Hubble offers glimpses of the biggest objects, the Titan 80-300 Cubed illuminates the smallest of particles.
Research at the facility, which opened in 2008, has helped government regulators study materials intended for nuclear power plants, as well as analyze everything from lightweight alloys for cars and artificial bones to tuberculosis detectors and light-emitting diodes for high-efficiency bulbs.
De Silveira says the centre has been especially useful in helping to make solar cells more efficient, along with developing materials that can better deliver medicine to specific regions of the human body.