CLEMSON — A doctoral candidate received enough money Tuesday to pay for one year of school as part of an annual fellowship that goes to graduate students who use super-magnifying electron microscopes as part of their research.

Photo of Zhaoxi Chen and Phil Bryson

Zhaoxi Chen accepts a certificate Tuesday from Phil Bryson, vice president and general manager of the Nanotechnology Systems Division at Hitachi High Technologies America.
Image Credit: Clemson University

Zhaoxi Chen of Clemson University received $20,000 as this year’s recipient of the Hitachi High Technologies America Electron Microscopy Annual Fellowship.

Chen, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in materials science, hopes that the materials he is developing will eventually be used as coatings for high-speed jets. The applications are many and could include protection for electrical equipment in harsh environments.

“I’m thankful to Hitachi for providing this fellowship,” he said. “It will expand my research. We’re working on magnetic composites, and we’re trying to understand unique phenomena of materials science. The fellowship helps me to continue my work on that. It’s a very important chapter of my Ph.D. thesis.”

Hitachi officials presented Chen with the fellowship during a visit to the Electron Microscopy Lab in Anderson.

The lab’s electron beam microscopes allow researchers to magnify specimens at a much higher resolution than optical light microscopes. One of the lab’s microscopes — the H-9500 Transmission Electron Microscope — is so powerful it can make individual atoms visible.

Phil Bryson, vice president and general manager of the Nanotechnology Systems Division at Hitachi High Technologies America, said Hitachi’s officials are pleased with the company’s connection to Clemson.

“With Hitachi’s microscopes, the Electron Microscopy Lab has become a model for universities around the country, attracting the likes of Harvard and Georgia Tech to see how it’s done,” Bryson said. “We’re proud to be part of that. This fellowship, now in its second year, is an extension of our collaboration.”

Fei Peng, who has served as Chen’s advisor for more than four years, congratulated his student on the fellowship. Peng said that Chen has more than 100 hours on Hitachi microscopes, including the S-3400 SEM, S-4800 SEM and H-9500 TEM.

“Mr. Chen is a very productive researcher,” Peng said. “He has published six journal papers within four years since since joining Clemson University in 2011. He is the first author on four of them. Mr. Chen is an inspiration to his fellow graduate students.”

Photo of microscope

Zhaoxi Chen settles in Tuesday to demonstrate one of the microscopes in the Clemson University Electron Microscopy Lab. Looking on in the room are (from left to right): Doug Griffith and Phil Bryson of Hitachi High Technologies America; Larry Dooley and Fei Peng of Clemson University; and Sammy Nozaki of Hitachi High Technologies America.
Image Credit: Clemson University

The fellowship started to come together when Hitachi officials began searching for ways to further support higher education. They met with Clemson Interim Vice President of Research Larry Dooley, who had the idea of creating a fellowship at the graduate level.

“The fellowship has a large, immediate impact on students and the university,” Dooley said. “The dollar amount is enough to pay for a year of graduate school, which helps Clemson attract and retain top talent. We’re proud of our Hitachi High Technologies America fellows and thankful to our Hitachi collaborators for their support.”

The microscopes allow researchers to manipulate the samples at the nano level. To illustrate the capabilities, experts created a Tiger paw that was 32 microns wide. That’s less than the width of a human hair.

The floors under the microscopes are concrete isolation pads that go down 26 feet to cancel vibration and acoustic noise.

Laxmikant Saraf, director of the Electron Microscopy Laboratory, said the lab has become one of the nation’s premiere microscopy facilities.

“Our goal is to provide the best microscopy and analytical services to our faculty, students and industrial collaborators,” he said. “We have a talented staff of microscopy experts, a wide range of capabilities and minimal wait times, all of which makes the lab an attractive option for researchers.”

Doug Griffith, the southeastern sales manager for Hitachi High Technologies America, has been involved with the lab since its inception. He said that Chris Przirembel, the past vice president of research for Clemson, and Joan Hudson, the former director of the lab, had the vision that led to the lab.

“It has been a joy to watch the Electron Microscopy Lab grow into a world-class facility,” Griffith said. “This has been a team effort from the beginning. I’m excited to see how it evolves.”

The Electron Microscopy Lab is housed at the Advanced Materials Research Lab about 15 minutes from Clemson’s main campus in Anderson. Hitachi High Technologies America has a senior service engineer on site at the lab to maintain the equipment.

All eight of the lab’s electron microscopes are made by Hitachi High-Technologies Corp. in Japan. Another Hitachi electron microscope is in Jordan Hall on Clemson’s main campus, and one is located at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in Charleston.

Hitachi High Technologies America is a subsidiary of Tokyo-based Hitachi, Ltd., which has more than 333,000 employees worldwide.

Hitachi High Technologies America has long had an active K-12 outreach program focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The fellowship at Clemson marked the company’s first STEM-outreach effort into higher education.

Chen is the fellowship’s second recipient. Last year, Hitachi High Technologies America Inc. pledged $100,000 to fund the fellowship for five years with an option to extend the program. The fellowship is worth $20,000 to each recipient, and the money comes with no restrictions.

Fellowships are open to College of Engineering and Science graduate students who use electron microcopy in their studies.

The group that visited Clemson to present the fellowship on Tuesday included Bryson, Griffith and Sammy Nozaki, who has a long history at the university. Each year, Nozaki organizes a well-attended electron microscopy course taught by David Joy, a preeminent electron microscopist..

Chen is active in professional societies and has been selected as a Clemson delegate to the American Ceramic Society’s President’s Council of Student Advisors for 2015-16. He has finished his course studies with an overall GPA of 3.9, according to Peng, who is an assistant professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering.

Congratulations also came from Tanju Karanfil, associate dean of research and graduate studies in the College of Engineering and Science.

“Mr. Chen’s strong academic performance and research credentials make him exceptionally qualified for this fellowship,” Karanfil said. “He has accomplished much in a short period of time, and we’re look forward to seeing what he does next.”