FIT Receives $186K National Science Foundation Grant

“The SEM image provides a qualitative composition,” Berhanu explains. “The black and white contrast is due to the difference in atomic mass. So the white areas are most probably metals from textile preparation or flame retardants.”

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded FIT a $186,635 grant, which will help further the college’s goal of developing innovative ideas at the intersection of design, technology, and science. The funds will be used to purchase a tabletop analytical scanning electron microscope [SEM] to aid on-campus research and improve undergraduate STEAM [science, technology, engineering, art, mathematics] education. Deborah Berhanu, associate professor of Math and Science, served as principal investigator for the grant, and Karen Pearson, associate chair of the department, was co-principal investigator. The NSF is a federal agency that supports fundamental research and education in all the non-medical fields of science and engineering.


The microscope can be used to make extremely fine distinctions about materials, such as this swimsuit from The Museum at FIT. Berhanu wrote, “As shown on the SEM (x95) image above, the fabric is contaminated with various particles. The bright spots indicate a high atomic weight in this BSE image.”

“Design and production methods are becoming more technologically sophisticated,” the proposal said. “Creative industries therefore demand that design professionals possess the scientific literacy and interdisciplinary aptitude necessary to understand new materials and the underlying science, such as polymers, biomaterials, and nanomaterials.” The microscope will help researchers and curators at the college, and foster interactive, cross-disciplinary work, and curatorial and industry collaborations that focus on materials characterization.

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