SCSAM begins fellowship program

Laura Wilson at work with the ToF SIMS

When Jeffrey Pigott came to the Swagelok Center for Surface Analysis of Materials (SCSAM) as an engineer in June 2020, the only people who operated the center’s instruments since 2018 were the engineers. In March 2021, working with U[tech] the center established remote connections to instruments that enabled covid-safe training protocol, and everything changed to a new normal. During the months that followed, dozens of Case Western Reserve University students were trained to use the SCSAM instruments. “Almost every day, we have students working on the instruments independently in the lab, often booking instruments themselves,” said Pigott, who pointed out that users come from the Case School of Engineering, College of Arts and Sciences and Case School of Medicine.

In Fall 2021, Pigott, now SCSAM executive director, and Jennifer Carter, SCSAM faculty director, decided to grow the SCSAM user base more by using endowment funds to create the SCSAM Fellowship program. The program gives students across the CWRU campus an opportunity to use SCSAM instruments to try new research methods and techniques they maybe hadn’t used before.

Pigott pointed out that funded research often has a defined scope and that there often is not an opportunity for researchers to add new techniques, experiments, or analyses after they receive a grant. Not only will the fellowship program give SCSAM an opportunity to grow their user base, it will also give students an opportunity to take more risks in their research.

The program was advertised on the SCSAM website, by word of mouth, and at four seminars across the CWRU campus during the Fall 2021 semester. To apply, students completed an application modeled after General User Proposals common at Department of Energy user facilities such as synchrotron-light sources. In their applications, students were encouraged to plan their experiments, identify which instruments they wanted to use, and detail which techniques they would use and how their research would be furthered.They were highly encouraged to communicate ideas with SCSAM Research staff during the application process. In this regard, Carter says, “we are establishing a trust in the CWRU research community that the SCSAM research staff are the local experts of these instruments and techniques. All the Research staff have been brought to CWRU during the pandemic, so this a unique opportunity to introduce new users to the amazing individuals that work at the center to support CWRU research.” 

At the end of the application process, four fellows were selected: Sylvie Crowell, a BS/MS candidate in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering; Jemila Edmond, a PhD candidate in the Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences; Amy Kurr, a PhD student in the Department of Macromolecular Science and Engineering; and Laura Wilson, a PhD candidate in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. Each fellow receives a budget based on the awarded hours and the rate for their proposed instrumentation and access to a speedtype for booking instrument time in iLab.

Several of the fellows had previous experience with the SCSAM instruments. Wilson, a participant in the Transmission Electron Microscopy collaboration between CWRU and The Ohio State University, is trained on the Apreo and Keyence in SCSAM and is using her fellowship to conduct research using XPS and ToF-SIMS. Also trained Apreo users, Edmond and Kurr will use the instrument in new ways to further their research. Crowell, who is diving into SCSAM as an independent user for the first time, will work on the Atomic Force Microscope.

Pigott praised the inaugural class of SCSAM fellows for their “exciting and compelling” proposals and looks forward to accepting more Fellows in May. In the long term, he hopes to accept new Fellows every fall and spring semesters, grow the SCSAM user base across the CWRU campus and encourage students to think of new projects.

Proposal applications are currently being taken for Spring 2022 Fellows.