South Bank students become first in the country to look through an electron microscope

By Toby Porter

Students often have trouble spotting the bleedin obvious.

But some have been able to look at items smaller than their phones – an achievement which should be celebrated.

Students at UAE South Bank in London have become one of the first schools in the country to look through an electron microscope, which can see things as small as an atom.

They benefitted from a new loan scheme run by Hitachi High-Tech America giving schools access to cutting-edge technology used by world class scientists, including scanning electron microscopes (SEMs). 

Scanning electron microscopes put a focused electron beam over a surface to create an image and use electrons to deliver a better resolution than standard microscopes which only use light. 

UK schools can apply to loan a scanning electron microscope (SEM) online via Institute for Research in Schools (IRIS).

The deadline for project proposals to loan a scanning electron microscope is 21st of June 2021.

The loans are coordinated by the Royal Microscopical Society (RMS) and Institute for Research in Schools (IRIS), supported by Oxford Instruments.

The Royal Microscopical Society works to inspire the next generation of electron microscopists, to give kids a hands-on experience, using state-of-the-art laboratory equipment. 

The UAE South Bank loan was secured thanks to the support of Dr Alex Ball, Head of Imaging and Analysis at the Natural History Museum.

Dr Ball oversees the Natural History Museum’s world-class imaging and analytical laboratories used by over 300 staff, visiting scientists and post-graduate students to understand the Museum’s world-leading collection of over 80 million objects and contribute to our understanding of the natural world.

Dr Ball said: “I’m a lifelong microscopist and once I started using scanning electron microscopes (SEMS) as a PhD student, I was hooked and knew that it was all I wanted to do.

“I’ve demonstrated scanning electron microscopes to thousands of people.

“The reaction is always the same, astonishment at what the scanning electron microscopes can reveal about the hidden beauty in relatively mundane objects, so I’ve long wanted to be involved in a programme that can bring that sense of wonder to more people. Hitachi High-Tech’s programme provides that opportunity.”

Jon Searle, the Head of Science at UAE South Bank said: “Our science club has exploded in numbers since we got access to the microscope. I’m enjoying the gasps of delight when you zoom in on pretty much anything.

“The smile on an eleven-year-old’s face when you tell them that they are one of the best scanning electron microscopes operators for their age in the world is an excellent thing.

“Ultimately our students feel like scientists because they have access to an incredibly advanced piece of technology. I hope this microscope encourages them to study science and go on to successful and rewarding careers in science.”

Dan Cundy, executive principal of South Bank Academies, said, “Hitachi’s loan of this world-leading technology has widened opportunities for our students, inspiring them and helping to develop their employability and professional skills.”



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