Materials Characterization Laboratory (MCL)

Materials Characterization Laboratory (MCL)


The Materials Characterization Lab (MCL) is an advanced microscopy and materials analysis facility located at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California. 

Available for use by government, academic, and commercial users, the MCL provides access to a variety of state-of-the-art instruments, including the Hitachi H-9500 300 kV Transmission Electron Microscope (TEM), Hitachi S-4800 Field Emission Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM), and Hitachi TM1000 Scanning Electron Microscope. Additional instrumentation available for users includes a South Bay Technology Ion Beam Sputtering Unit, Denton Vacuum HP Cold Sputter / Etch System for TEM and FE-SEM, and a Leica EM UC7 Ultramicrotome. 

Primary Instruments:

Hitachi H-9500 300 kV Transmission Electron Microscope (TEM)
Hitachi S-4800 Field Emission Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM)

Additional Instruments:

Denton Vacuum HP Cold Sputter System for TEM, SEM
The Denton Vacuum HP Cold Sputter System for TEM, SEM sample preparation with Denton’s patented anode grid which collects stray electrons and prevents them from bombarding and heating the sample. Common metals for deposition include gold, silver, platinum, palladium, and carbon.

Leica EM UC7 Ultramicrotome
The Leica EM UC7 Ultramicrotome is used for cutting extremely thin slices of biological and material science specimens, as well as providing smooth surfaces required for light, transmission electron, scanning electron, and atomic force microscopy. Sample section thickness range from 1 nm to 15,000 nm.

Oriel M-92190 1600W Solar Simulator
The Oriel M-92190 1600W Solar Simulator is capable of providing a highly collimated, uniform beam and a maximum 12 x 12-inch diverging beam. This tool is used to test solar arrays and to expose UV radiation to biological samples under a variety of solar conditions.

Hitachi TM-1000 TableTop Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM)
The TM-1000 SEM is considered the first “cross-over” imaging tool that bridged the gap between light microscopy and conventional SEM. This easy to use SEM is ideal for novice laboratory and non-laboratory users. The fixed 15kV accelerating voltage and variable pressure based vacuum system combined with a high sensitivity backscatter electron detector to enable the viewing of uncoated samples while providing elemental information determined by contrast variances within the displayed image. Available functions include auto-focus, auto-brightness, and auto-contrast, as well as corresponding manual controls. The sample chamber is capable of accommodating samples as large as 70mm (w) x 20mm (h). Sample stage traverses are x: 15mm, y: 18mm. The range of magnification is 20 – 10,000X with a digital zoom of 2X and 4X.

Ladd Research Industries Critical Point Dyer, Model 28000
The 28000 CPD prepares samples for SEM by reducing the damaging effects of surface tension upon delicate samples when transitioning from a liquid phase to a gaseous phase. The instrument is designed with a tilted chamber to aid with the loading of samples and the filling and draining of transitional fluids. Safety features include: Pressure Switch which cuts power to the chamber heater at 1300 psi; Temperature Set Point at 42º C which also cuts power to the chamber heater preventing excessive pressure build-up.; Rupture Disc (Safety Valve) designed to rupture at 1800 psi at 25º C; Fully fused and grounded system; Sapphire viewing port to withstand pressures reaching 12,000 psi.

South Bay Technologies IBS/e (Ion Beam Sputter Deposition and Etching System)
The Model IBS/e is a high vacuum thin film deposition system designed to precisely deposit sub-nanometer grain, conductive coatings onto specimens prior to examination in the electron microscope. Thin, conductive films are deposited onto specimens to prevent charging effects and to enhance contrast. Films are deposited using two ion beam sources directed at a target material, eliminating radiation or heating effects which are common with other coating techniques. Extremely thin, continuous metal or carbon films are deposited without risking damage to delicate features present on the specimen. Virtually any target material can be used for ion beam deposition with precise control over the deposition thickness. The ability to deposit amorphous, continuous films makes the IBS/e system ideal for high-resolution electron microscopy techniques.

Affiliates and Partners:

The following organizations are currently collaborating with USRA and NASA in the use of the Materials Characterization Lab:


For More Information:

Additional information on the Materials Characterization Lab can be found in the MCL datasheet.


April 28, 2016
NASA awards USRA the NASA Academic Mission Services

USRA brings together a diverse national team of universities and experts to partner with NASA's Ames Research Center in order to solve problems related to Earth and space science, engineering, and aeronautics.

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