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This fall semester, Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source (CHESS) furthered its educational goals through student-to-student outreach. Staff scientist Detlef Smilgies arranged an opportunity for graduate students in the D1 group to mentor students in the Cornell School of Material Science and Engineering. Professor Chekesha Liddell Watson of the Cornell Department of Materials Science and Engineering offered a course on the instruments and commonly used analytical methods encountered in the fields of physics and material sciences as part of the undergrad senior curriculum. As this course required hands-on experience with these instruments and emphasized the traditional approaches as well as the more novel ones, CHESS was the perfect resource for aspiring engineers to get their hands dirty.

As a result of this partnership in early October, Materials Science and Engineering senior Zeenia Dumasia was able to experience first-hand one of the more fascinating instruments in the CHESS sample environment lab, the QCM-D. The QCM-D, short for Quartz Crystal Microbalance with Dissipation, is a relatively recent enhancement on the older Quartz Crystal Microbalances (QCM). Both are sensitive machines that are capable of weighing matter as small as individual molecules and proteins. It accomplishes this by measuring changes in the frequency of a vibrating sensor: as material attaches to the sensor, it gets heavier. This increase in mass corresponds to a decrease in the vibrating frequency of the sensor, not unlike an orchestra where the low frequencies are left to the large, heavy instruments. These frequency shifts are then interpreted using mathematical models to determine how much of a given material has adsorbed to the surface and how it is behaving. The recent addition to this method that warrants the addition of the “D” to “QCM” is that the model currently housed in Wilson Laboratory is capable of operating in a liquid environment, a unique and challenging aspect of using the device.

Patrick Dorion/Zeenia Dumasia

Zeenia was tasked with running several experiments on the machine, learning everything from the theory behind its operation to interpretation of the data. Patrick Dorion, one of the several master’s students in chemical engineering that Prof. Smilgies advises, served as Zeenia’s mentor during her time at CHESS. This past summer, Patrick completed an investigation into the capabilities of the QCM-D for the purpose of performing experiments with nanoparticles, species of matter ranging between 1-200 nanometers in size. Having spent months in the lab using the QCM-D to measure everything from iron nanoparticles to gold molecules covered in DNA-like chains of the chemical Thymine, Patrick was able to watch and guide Zeenia through the operation of the somewhat tricky device. Along with experimental outreach, Zeenia was also able to receive a tour of operations as well as the chemistry facilities offered by CHESS and MacCHESS.

The results of this partnership allowed students at Cornell to explore the microscopic world of surface science in ways rarely possible. CHESS is a fantastic resource, not just to the scientific and research community, but to the student as well. Further outreach with undergraduates is a great way to introduce some of the capabilities an advanced research facility to a broader audience. With respect to students mentoring other students, the old adage that “you don’t understand something until you can explain it” seems to hold true to some extent, making future partnerships like this invaluable to the graduate community as well.



Submitted by: Patrick Dorion, Cornell University