Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

April 30, 2012

CU electron microprobe upgrade grants new opportunities for science students

ATHENS — Click here for video

A major upgrade of an electron microprobe at Concord University is allowing more to be done in less time, the director of the project said on Thursday.

Dr. Stephen C. Kuehn said a new module that beams X-rays at samples, along with computer software additions, are allowing better microanalysis at the facility on the bottom floor of the Science Hall in Athens.

Kuehn and Don Lesher, head of the Ohio firm Advanced MicroBeam, completed the installation on Wednesday. Concord’s microprobe is the only instrument of its kind in the state.

The upgrade cost nearly $75,000, Kuehn said. Concord got a $40,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, and the university came up with the remainder, primarily from students’ laboratory and technology fee money. Three Concord students are currently employed to help in the lab.

A senior science major, Joseph J. “Joey” Pritt, analyzed material from early eruptions of Mount St. Helens in Washington state and presented his findings on March 31 at the Geological Society of America conference in Asheville, N.C.  

 “He did the (sample) preparation, he ran the machine, he plotted up the data,” Kuehn said. “It’s great experience. For students who want to go to graduate school, having this on their resume gets them into a better graduate school, and gives them the opportunity to be better financially supported” through possible grants and fellowships.

The new X-ray module and software allows quicker detection of what chemical elements are present in a sample. The X-rays that bounce back from the material, slightly different for each element, can be displayed as a color-coded image on a computer screen, or as precise graphs with peaks showing the most abundant elements.

The X-ray data can be compared instantly with visible-light images taken at the same time from another part of the microprobe. “Everything can be pooled together,” Kuehn said. “The more information you can get together, the more you’ll know about something.”

He said, “The special purpose software tends to be very expensive, but it allows you to do great things.”

The device can be useful commercially in fields such as mineral exploration, and in academic research originating at Concord and at other schools.

It is being used in advanced geology and chemistry classes at CU, and is demonstrated every fall and spring semester for students in Concord’s introductory geology classes.

The faster X-ray element detection is “better for demonstration,” Kuehn said, “and in total, it’s more productivity. You get more done in less time.”

— Contact Tom Bone at

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