Hooke College Develops a Microscopy Core Facility

Hooke College student operates an SEM
A Hooke College student operates an SEM.

Several years ago, I wrote a post about the start of Hooke College of Applied Sciences’ newly launched 3+1 program with North Central College and how such a program is the perfect blend of academia and hands-on training. In the same post, I highlighted how scientific collaboration between higher education and industry was growing at an astonishing rate, and invited other institutions to collaborate with us to evolve as a scientific community. In keeping with that vision of a collaborating partner with higher education institutions, Hooke College has opened its doors to serve as a microscopy core facility for all of the 15 Associated Colleges of the Chicago Area (ACCA) schools.

What is the Associated Colleges of the Chicago Area (ACCA)?

ACCA is a consortium of 15 private liberal arts colleges that was formed in 1966 whose primary objective is to promote collegiate education in biology, chemistry, computer science, mathematics, physics, psychology, sociology/anthropology, and business/economics by stimulating and regularizing cooperative arrangements between the member colleges and universities and other educational and research institutions in the use of staff and facilities.

ACCA has had a cooperative program with Hooke College for seven years. The program, titled Microscopy for Chemists, is designed to initiate students of chemistry and biology in the techniques of microscopy used every day by practicing chemists. The cooperative program provides students an opportunity to attend one-week intensive courses in Polarized Light Microscopy, Scanning Electron Microscopy, Sample Preparation Techniques, micro-FTIR, and micro-Raman, and receive credit at their home college or university. In these classes, students receive hands-on experience using the latest microscopes and techniques, and learn how to apply the necessary skills and analytical judgment to a broad range of micro-analytical problems including pharmaceutical contamination, forensic trace evidence, failure analysis, and cleanroom techniques. Students actively learn how each of these micro-analytical tools can be used to solve a wide variety of materials analysis and particle identification problems.

The Hooke College/ACCA Microscopy Core Facility Vision

The development of a microscopy core facility for ACCA is a natural evolution of our ACCA Microscopy for Chemists partnership program. We envision a proposal-based pricing structure based on instrument hours and time required on the part of the Hooke College staff for a given project. Such an arrangement will benefit ACCA school students in the following ways:

  • Students will enroll in one of the ACCA courses to receive training on the instruments to be used for a specified research project. This will likely involve at least two courses: an instrumentation course and a sample preparation course.
  • By attending the training courses, students receive an International Association for Continuing Education and Training professional development certificate that is recognized by industry for that particular skill. The certificate says to an employer that this person knows how to operate and derive data from a given instrument—highly desirable skills and credentials to have in today’s workforce.
  • After receiving the proper instrument training, students can acquire additional credits through their ACCA institution’s “Research Topics in…” courses that are available as biology or chemistry credits. These research contributions serve as vital part of a student’s career progression.

Student Research Projects

Highlighted below are a few examples of research projects facilitated by Hooke College 3+1 students.

As part of a senior thesis research project, one of our 3+1 students with an interest in art conservation sampled and analyzed materials from a painting, and then used the instrumental techniques most appropriate and effective for the identification of the artist’s materials. The study required collecting 24 samples of different colors from the painted canvas using a tungsten needle, and then analyzing the samples using polarized light microscopy (PLM), scanning electron microscopy (SEM) with energy dispersive x-ray spectrometry (EDS), micro-Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR), Raman micro-spectroscopy, and x-ray diffraction (XRD). After collecting the data from each sample, the student determined which method or combination of methods was most effective for each material, along with advantages and disadvantages of each analytical technique. The project was presented by the student at the National Conferences on Undergraduate Research held at Eastern Washington University.

Research project in artist’s pigment identification.
Research project in artist’s pigment identification.

McCrone Associates Research Projects

For research credit within a Special Topics in Microscopy course, a recent graduate of North Central College completed a research project that looked at the stability of Cargille refractive index liquids. The student developed a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for these reference index liquids, which involved the analysis of multiple bottles of refractive index liquids to determine if they were within their printed values. The deliverables for this research project was a paper written in the form of an SOP, and a short, in-house webinar presentation at The McCrone Group.

Rudolph Research Analytical Automatic Refractometer J357
The Rudolph Research Analytical Automatic Refractometer J357 used in the refractive index research project.

Faculty Research Projects

Biology professor Robert Carr of Concordia University Chicago and his colleagues at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History needed to image arthrodiran egg cases using SEM as part of a research project to determine the origin of these egg cases. Dr. Carr employed the help of one of our Hooke College/Concordia University 3+1 students to provide SEM imaging, along with EDS data, of the egg cases.

Arthrodiran egg case, SEM image.
Arthrodiran egg case, SEM image.

We look forward to future ACCA collaborations and serving as a valuable hands-on research facility for undergraduate students—our future pathfinders.

For information about this program, please contact us.


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