Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Seeing at a different scale

When he was in high school and building robots, Marquez Balingit couldn't help but wonder: How do these parts work and how do circuits communicate with each other?

He realized is questions could be answered in one word: nanoengineering. So when it came time to pick a college major, that's what he chose. He wanted to understand what things at the nanoscale or submicron level look like.

Now an undergraduate the Jacobs School, Balingit tackles this question at the Nano3 lab. In the future, Balingit sees himself creating a nonprofit company specializing in a form of energy conversion, battery or generator that is efficient in every aspect: cost, power conversion and practicality. He hopes that it can be free and practical for developing countries, giving them more autonomy so that they can power themselves.

Balingit says he is inspired by the works of Nikola Tesla. From his perspective, Tesla's main desire was to create free energy by harnessing and manipulating existing energy on earth and within the air so that everyone can access it.

Balingit teaches  users unfamiliar with the scanning electron microscope, or SEM, how to use it independently. Unlike regular optical microscopes, SEM does not use photons. Instead, it uses electrons, which allows the device to capture smaller features at the 1 micron scale, approximately ⅕ the size of a human red blood cell.

"I like the idea of being the bridge of information by gathering some knowledge, filtering out the details and explaining it to someone clearly," Balingit said. "I learn how to use high tech equipment and understand the standard operating procedures to be able to articulate that to other people so that they can use it on their own."

Outside of training users, Balingit also works on service measurements of sample materials, in order to to figure out the features that users want. He says he feels challenged to get a clear, high resolution images and excited to see something he's never seen before.

"Sometimes things I see in textbooks, I end up actually imaging which is pretty amazing because I never thought I'd be able to. In my textbooks, a lot of things are in the 10 microns and 5 microns and I wondered how they even get these images. Now, years later, I'm getting images that are roughly similar to that," Balingit said.

The Nano3 lab is also looking to increase outreach with the SEM by remotely connecting with high schools and community colleges to show them the SEM's  full capabilities of the and what it can provide from an educational standpoint. Balingit feels like this will help bridge the gap between college and high school curricula in nanotechnology by bringing this information to them. By magnifying everyday objects like pennies and ballpoint pens, Balingit also hopes that using SEM will inspire young students to pursue an  education/career in a STEM field.

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