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Where Science Meets Art

Recently elected president of the Microscopy Society of America Student Council discusses how microscopy can be used to reach non-technical audiences

PITTSBURGH (November 8, 2019) … Erica Stevens, a materials science graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh, assumed her appointment as president of the Microscopy Society of America (MSA) Student Council (StC) during the Microscopy & Microanalysis annual meeting on August 4-8, 2019. Through this role, she wants to show her peers the impact that microscopy can have on scientific advancement and education to both the scientific and non-scientific community.

“There is an elegance and a freedom in the ability to drive the machine to actually see a specific part of the sample that will help answer a scientific question,” she said. “Then not only do you as the operator need to be able to observe the sample while it’s in the microscope, but you also need to convey useful information through appropriate images.”

Stevens was appointed president-elect of the MSA StC in 2018 and previously served as the regional liaison chair Stevens_Ericafrom 2017-2018. She is a PhD candidate and National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellow in the Chmielus Lab at Swanson School of Engineering, with a research focus in the additive manufacturing of magnetocaloric materials, which change their temperature when introduced into a magnetic field.

Stars and Twins Forever
This is a differential interference contrast (DIC) optical micrograph of single crystal magnetic shape memory alloy Ni-Mn-Ga.

Ni-Mn-Ga single crystals are functional ferromagnetic alloys and have great potential to be used as high-speed, remotely activated microactuators. In order to be functional magnetic shape memory alloys, the material needs to be in the martensitic phase, indicated by twinning.

Twinning is a phenomenon where atoms are mirrored across a plane, causing perfectly parallel stripes to appear on the surface of the material. DIC microscopy can be used to easily tell what the twinning status of a sample is, thereby enabling a prediction of how functional it will be. The larger twins in the image are on the order of tens of microns.

The MSA StC provides a platform for students, postdocs, and early-career professionals to network, share experiences, discuss research, and get involved with their peers. The Student Council officers develop new programs and events for students at the Microscopy & Microanalysis annual meetings.

“Nothing excites me more than microscopes and microscopy,” said Stevens. “The ability to see matter from a vastly different perspective, the unique opportunity to fuse art and science, and the possibilities for reaching non-technical audiences through visual appeal is absolutely the best of all worlds for me.”

“Microscopy, to me, is beautiful. It’s a skill and an art to capture a scientifically relevant, eye-catching image that can be appreciated by the scientific and non-scientific communities alike,” she said. “It opens doors to explaining scientific concepts to those outside of the field, since the starting point is a visual experience that they are already able to enjoy.”


Contact: Leah Russell