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Home > Nanotechnology Columns > FEI > Supporting the Next Generation of Innovation with Tools for Education

Joe Fillion
FEI Company

Abstract:
Last month's congressional previews of the soon-to-be-launched Phenom-Ed - the world's first tabletop scanning electron microscope (SEM) designed specifically for education reached far beyond education in the classroom. With the Phenom-Ed's ability to provide magnification far beyond the range of traditional optical microscopes and give students access to micro- and nanoscale worlds rarely seen in undergraduate and high school studies, the system provides educators with a tool to change traditional teaching methods and inspire the next generation of scientists.

March 23rd, 2007

Supporting the Next Generation of Innovation with Tools for Education

Joe Fillion
Phenom-Ed Marketing Manager
FEI Company

Last month's congressional previews of the soon-to-be-launched Phenom-Ed - the world's first tabletop scanning electron microscope (SEM) designed specifically for education reached far beyond education in the classroom. With the Phenom-Ed's ability to provide magnification far beyond the range of traditional optical microscopes and give students access to micro- and nanoscale worlds rarely seen in undergraduate and high school studies, the system provides educators with a tool to change traditional teaching methods and inspire the next generation of scientists.

In 2006, global government funding of nanotechnology initiatives topped U.S. $5 billion with the United States' portion representing nearly 25 percent of that total. At the same time the number of students choosing careers in science and technology in the U.S., for example, is at an all time low with only one in five students selecting technical studies. The situation begs two obvious questions: How will we find the talent to support the infrastructure that is being built and, how can development in nanotech be sustained? A focus on education and encouraging more students to pursue studies in science, technology and math is key to recouping maximum returns from current investments in nanotechnology.

Technology companies and universities have long been able to tap young scientists and technologists from developing countries in many parts of the world. But, as business becomes more global, and the economies of once developing nations take flight, the demand for talented resources is increasing at a far greater rate than the supply. Looking at the future, the competition for an educated workforce will only continue to increase. .

One answer to these problematic realities is to revitalize how science is taught in the classroom.

During the previews of the Phenom-Ed, Skip Rung, executive director of ONAMI said: "The Phenom-Ed brings to life aspects of science and technology that have traditionally been somewhat abstract through classroom instruction. This table-top scanning electron microscope makes it possible to teach the scientific investigative techniques and inquiry skills that have traditionally been taught at the advanced university level."

"Seeing is believing" Jun Jiao, professor at Oregon's Portland State University, told U.S. senators and representatives. She explained that today's students are highly visual and that they need to actually see scientific samples before they become interested in the science and theory behind them.

To address this scenario, the Phenom-Ed promotes active learning and interest in science by giving students a dynamic and fun learning tool. Fully-automated and easy-to-use, the system is the worldˇ¦s first electron microscope with an interactive touch screen. About the size of a desk-top PC, the Phenom-Ed is a completely self-contained high-tech laboratory that can inspire students to explore the microscopic and nanoscale structures of such specimens as, bacteria, cells, plankton, insects, pollens, metals, forensic specimens, semiconductors, minerals and more. While teachers make the connection to core curriculum topics, students remain engaged and interested.

The development of the Phenom-Ed (targeted for launch in the third quarter of this year) represents an important and highly successful collaboration between the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnology Institute (ONAMI), several universities and FEI. It was funded in part by a federal grant provided to ONAMI and a European Union stimulus grant to FEI. The system is currently in the final stages of beta-testing at The Ohio State University, Jackson State University, University of Oregon, Oregon State University, Chemeketa Community College, Winona State University, and Portland State University.

"We believe that the Phenom-Ed is the future of science education. It is easy to use, affordable and truly brings the study of science, technology, engineering and math to life for students," said Don Kania, President and CEO of FEI. "The Phenom-Ed embodies the commitment to improving technical education through innovation and will enhance the infrastructure to support the growth of science and technology in the U.S."

The success of the Phenom-Ed development program underscores the benefits of government, academic and corporate collaboration to create the necessary tools for sustained nanoscale exploration, discovery and development. But most importantly, it promises to make a vital contribution towards building a qualified base of researchers and technicians to use them.


About the author:
With more than 18 years of semiconductor and nanotechnology experience, Joe is the product marketing manager for the Phenom-Ed. He holds a B.S. in Electronic Engineering from DeVry Institute of Technology and an MBA from Southern New Hampshire University. He is located in, Newburyport, MA and can be contacted at

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