Category: Featured

Researchers Contribute to the Database on the Magnetic Properties of Meteorites

Cover of Icarus

Aleksey Smirnov (GMES) and Katie Bristol ’20 (M.S. Geophysics), currently a Ph.D. student at the University of Florida, collaborated as co-authors on a research paper published in Icarus, a prestigious journal renowned in the field of planetary science.

The paper is titled “Magnetic characterization of the Daule chondrite (Ecuador’s first meteorite fall): The case of elusive tetrataenite?”

The study also involved researchers hailing from Ecuador, Iceland and Norway.

Two representative samples of bulk Daule material were analyzed using an FEI Philips XL 40 Environmental Scanning Electron Microscope (ESEM) at the Applied Chemical and Morphological Analysis Laboratory at Michigan Technological University (MTU).

  • The morphology and texture of mineral grains were examined using backscattered electron (BSE) imaging.
  • The elemental composition of the material was determined through energy-dispersive x-ray spectroscopy (EDS) using a ∼ 15 kV accelerating voltage.
  • Basic elemental mapping was performed.

The new data contribute to the database on the magnetic properties of meteorites, in which meteorites of Daule’s type are underrepresented.

K.E. Bristol, A.V. Smirnov, E.J. Piispa, M.R. Ramirez Navas, A. Kosterov, E.V. Kulakov, Magnetic characterization of the Daule chondrite (Ecuador’s first meteorite fall): The case of elusive tetrataenite?, Icarus, Volume 404, 2023.

Under the Titan Lens: Microscope Takes Research to Atomic-Level

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Under the Titan Lens: Microscope Takes Research to Atomic-Level

Tiny things lead to big discoveries in the Electron Optics Facility that houses Titan, the ultra-sensitive microscope that analyzes materials at the atomic level. The Titan Themis Scanning Transmission Microscope, or S-TEM, has its own dedicated and stabilized space, complete with water-cooled temperature controls and back-up power. A powerful tool in an extensive array of electron microanalytical and X-ray instruments in Michigan Tech’s Applied Chemical and Morphological Analysis Laboratory (ACMAL), Titan is one of only two microscopes of its kind in the state of Michigan. In addition to high-resolution images, Titan can also perform fractional or chemical analysis. Its applications are useful in many research areas, including health, industrial, and technology. The electron optics facility is managed by Erico Freitas, a research scientist who runs the majority of samples but also trains students on how to use the equipment.

Funding Announcement: Seedling Research

Sample preparation on a benchtop.

Planting the Seeds of Research

Are you a:

  • Tenured, tenure-track, or research faculty?
  • Post-doctoral researcher?
  • Michigan Tech staff member?

Are you planning to seek funds for research elsewhere, but require start-up money to develop your proposal?

If so, you are eligible to apply for Seedling Research Funding opportunities of up to $1,000.

The Applied Chemical and Morphological Analysis Laboratory (ACMAL) at Michigan Tech has set aside $4,000 to fund pre-proposal research. These funds are designed to be granted to those who need to do preliminary investigations and data collection, which will then be used to develop a proposal for research funding from another source.

Learn More and Apply

Teachers in Action—Dr. Edward Laitila

Edward Laitila
Edward Laitila

On Teaching Critical Thinking

Dr. Edward Laitila is a kind and humble science teacher who cannot be appreciated enough for his dedication to the advancement of science and the education of students. Over the years he has developed methods of analysis and processes for material development that are unique, practical, and yield powerful results. His way of teaching takes extra time to convey not only knowledge, but to impart skills in critical thinking that are too-often absent from a regular education. For his astounding work over many years, it is a pleasure to state just how valuable an asset he has been to Michigan Tech, to students, and to the scientific community.

Professor Laitila teaches courses in crystallography, diffraction, and materials forensics within the Materials Science and Engineering department. His official titles and positions are Senior Research Engineer/Scientist II and Adjunct Assistant Professor. His main duties are to act as the manager and sole employee of the X-Ray Facility, which operates under the Applied Chemical and Morphological Analysis Laboratory (ACMAL). There, he manages, operates and repairs the various X-Ray Diffraction (XRD) and X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) equipment.

Research in X-Ray Diffraction

Dr. Laitila started running the X-Ray Facility in 1983. At that time he had a two-year electrical engineering degree. He then obtained a bachelor’s degree and spent the next 20 years researching and working. Eventually he found extra time to write a report on his years of research and to finish his PhD. He has many undergrad and graduate students doing research for him. He also teaches classes and helps students with planning their own research experiments and writing research papers. He now has nearly 40 years of experience in XRD.

XRD is a process of metrology which characterizes a material by measuring the size of, and pattern to, its atomic structure. X-rays are waves, and crystalline materials are made up of periodic arrangements of atoms in a crystal lattice structure. Every crystalline material has a pattern that is unique, referred to as a diffraction fingerprint. XRD involves wave behavior similar to light diffraction, such as that seen in the double slit experiment. The x-ray waves travel through spacing and can constructively or destructively interfere with each other, which results in the unique pattern. This produces a pattern of peaks and dark sections which can be analyzed to determine the material structure and the distance between the atoms themselves. Through XRD researchers can obtain pinpoint accuracy of a material’s lattice structure, chemical composition, and phase composition.

Recent Breakthroughs

Dr. Laitila’s research interests are X-ray diffraction theory and its many applications, including mechanical alloying, intermetallic materials, physical metallurgy, nanoscale materials, materials characterization, additive manufacturing, and powder metallurgy. His latest published research was featured in the journal Powder Diffraction, Vol. 23, Issue 2 and was entitled “Employing X-ray scattering to characterize materials with grain sizes in the nano-regime.” In it he explained his creation of a new analytical technique for measuring the number of atoms in the grain boundaries of a nanoscale material. He was chosen for publishing after giving a talk at an annual X-Ray powder diffraction conference. On that work, he remarked, “Even though I did it on one material, I showed that this could be applied to anything.” From that research he is now working on a process which can make iron directly from iron ore without a need for using carbon. Such a process is exciting because it could revolutionize the steel industry in a way that is net positive for earth’s climate.

In recent research Dr. Laitila has come up with a process for making nano-composites. With his novel method it is simple to vary the amount of a second phase by varying the milling time. He has dubbed it Mechanonanosynthesis. He explained that it will be ideal in the creation of powders for additive manufacturing.

Ed Laitila stands near equipment while he is teaching.
Ed Laitila instructs near the powder diffractometer.

Pioneering the Work

Dr. Laitila went into detail about some interesting projects he has done over the years. He explained that in 1983 the diffractometers were all analog machines, and that only a couple of types had been automated. The lab worked with a teletype, which put little holes on tape that would collect the data. Researchers would then put those in a mainframe computer to do analysis. He was asked in ‘84 if he could interface the diffractometer with an early-model PC, which had an 8088 processor. He used Basic to code an MS-DOS program for the interface. He laughed as he recalled the story, saying, “I got it to work, and got it to collect data, and then we bought an automated system.”

The professor describes himself as a big proponent of critical thinking. He explained, “I honestly believe we have got a major problem in our education system, because we teach knowledge instead of teaching how to think. Teachers here have critical thinking skills but we don’t usually focus on that. When a student comes to me with a question I try to return with a question that forces them to think of a way to answer their own question. Usually they have the knowledge but they don’t know how to piece it together. I try to piece things together from different subjects and how those things combine in material science. I try to take every opportunity to teach.” He explained that his favorite part of teaching is “seeing the light go on when a student gets the subject.”

Outreach in Materials

In addition to all his other duties, Dr. Laitila spends extra time teaching teenagers about science. He has run a session, as part of the Women in Engineering and Engineering Scholars program, for many years. Each summer for more than 50 years, Michigan Tech Summer Youth Programs (SYP) has welcomed to campus more than 1,000 youth from grades 6–11, from across the country and around the world. SYP students come for week-long, hands-on, experiential learning in one or more of their 50+ week-long explorations in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), humanities, and law. Dr. Ed is a favorite among many students, especially those in the SYP. Last year, when students were finishing SYP and were asked what program was their favorite, they chanted Ed’s name.

Be the Catalyst

Dr. Edward Laitila is a catalyst for the process of science. He is a man that makes the magic happen. He is a student favorite, an expert in XRD, and a valuable researcher. Anyone interested in doing work with Edward or using the equipment in his lab should contact him or get in touch with ACMAL Director Elizabeth Miller for more information. Remote teaching and research are available. If you are a student with a project that requires XRD or are interested in helping Dr. Laitila with his research, there may be opportunities available to you.

There is no better place to get involved in some exciting research!

By Joshua Jongema.

Student Team Shares Exciting Images

A materials science and engineering team of students Sonja Blickley, Tori Nizzi, Anna Palmcook, and Austin Schaub were sponsored by Hobart Brothers LLC. ( to develop a new process that has yielded some exciting results. Working with Dr. Erico Freitas, operator of the Titan Themis Scanning Electron Microscope, these students used the FEI 200kV Titan Themis Scanning Transmission Electron Microscope (STEM) to produce some awesome images of a welded material. They have granted special permission to show these pictures here, despite wishing to keep their work and the composition of their material confidential.

Micrograph with 500 nm scale showing dotted features on larger grains with boundaries.
Image 1 – This image shows a dispersed material within a matrix on the nanometer scale.
Micrograph on the 200 nm scale showing some of the dot features and the texture of the material.
Image 2 – This image is also a section of the first, zoomed in 70,000 times! To achieve this resolution the team used a High-Angle Annular Dark Field (HAADF) imaging technique.
Micrograph at the 10 nm of the dot feature, with a zoom showing its atomic structure.
Image 3 – This image is a section of the first, zoomed in 1,600,000 times! This was also taken using HAADF.

This team is very excited about their results, which help to drive the science of materials and engineering forward. Congratulations to them for their hard work paying off!

By Joshua Jongema.

Who is Studying the Failure Mechanisms of Electrical Wire Terminals at Michigan Tech?

Micrograph of a wire on a substrate with a 500 micron scale marker.

An Advanced Metalworks Enterprise undergraduate student team, sponsored by Lear Corporation, is studying the performance of copper electrical wires in automobiles. Corrosion is the most common failure mechanism of wires used in crimp connectors; deformation in the wire terminal’s tin plating can cause additional contact issues within the connector. Electron microscopy aids in pinpointing the location of corrosion products on the wire and observing deformation in the tin plating. With this analysis, the team can now explore ways to improve the wire quality or crimping mechanism to minimize wire failures.

Image taken by Eli Harma and Reese Eichner, senior undergraduate materials science and engineering students, on Philips XL 40 ESEM.

Learn more about the Advanced Metalworks Enterprise at MTU: AME Website

Visit the Applied Chemical and Morphological Analysis Laboratory’s webpage to learn more about our shared facility and instruments available to the Michigan Tech research community: ACMAL

Who is Studying Miniature Magneto-optic Devices at Michigan Tech?

Four images on different scales showing pillar arrays on a surface.

The successful fabrication of miniature optical components is key for progressing current optical technologies. A family of such miniature optical components must be able to efficiently rotate linearly polarized light at small scales. Estefanio Kesto, under the guidance of Dr. Miguel Levy, is studying the interaction between light and ferromagnetic iron garnet nanostructures. It has been observed that the polarization rotation of linearly polarized light, known as the magneto-optic response, traveling through such a nanostructure will be enhanced. The ferromagnetic iron garnet nanostructures pictured above, which enhance the magneto-optic response, are being studied to further miniaturize polarization rotators and other interferometric components. Additionally, Professor Levy and his research group are diving into the unexplored region of magneto-optic beam splitting and its applications in classical and quantum computing.

Pillars fabricated and image taken by Estefanio Kesto, undergraduate student in electrical engineering, using ACMAL’s Hitachi FB-2000A FIB, Hitachi S-4700 FE-SEM, and Asylum Research MFP-3D Origin+ AFM.

Read more about the Dr. Miguel Levy’s research in the following articles:

All-dielectric magnetic metasurface for advanced light control in dual polarizations combined with high-Q resonances

Nonreciprocal magneto-optic beam splitting

Two-dimensional array of iron-garnet nanocylinders supporting localized and lattice modes for the broadband boosted magneto-optics

Visit the Applied Chemical and Morphological Analysis Laboratory’s webpage to learn more about our shared facility and instruments available to the Michigan Tech research community: ACMAL

Who is Imaging Hemolysin X Treated Red Blood Cells at Michigan Tech?

Sequence of six images showing the disintegration of cell membranes.

The Laboratory of Mechanistic Glycobiology research group, led by Dr. Tarun Dam, is studying how the function of biomolecules from plant cells translates to human cells. Hemolysin X is a biomolecule that can disrupt and disintegrate cell membranes. The image above depicts how Hemolysin X systematically disintegrates a red blood cell.  The research group is looking into how this molecule reacts with other types of mammalian cells, including cancer cells.

Image taken by Jared Edwards, Chemistry PhD candidate, on ACMAL’s Hitachi S-4700 FE-SEM.

Learn more about the Laboratory of Mechanistic Glycobiology research group: Laboratory of Mechanistic Glycobiology

Visit the Applied Chemical and Morphological Analysis Laboratory’s webpage to learn more about our shared facility and instruments available to the Michigan Tech research community: ACMAL

Who is Imaging Electrospun Polycaprolactone Fiber Scaffolding at Michigan Tech?

Six panels of three different polymer nanofibers at low and high magnifications.

Dr. Smitha Rao, assistant professor for Biomedical Engineering at Michigan Tech, and the Biomedical µDevices research team developed a way to be able to observe how breast cancer cells grow and migrate in various environments. The project developed scaffolding systems that mimic structures that could be found in human tissue. They engineered three polycaprolactone scaffold structures to test different topographical and mechanical features: hexagonal, mesh-like and aligned.

The image was taken by Dr. Smitha Rao’s graduate and undergraduate students using ACMAL’s Hitachi S-4700 FE-SEM.

Read more about Dr. Rao and the Biomedical µDevices research team’s work:

Visit the Applied Chemical and Morphological Analysis Laboratory’s webpage to learn more about our shared facility and instruments available to the Michigan Tech research community: ACMAL

If you have you have an image you would like to be featured, submit it here:

Spontaneous Selective Deposition of Iron Oxide Nanoparticles on Graphite as Model Catalysts

Defect generation process steps.

Chathura de Alwis (Chemistry), Timothy R. Leftwich (MSE), Pinaki Mukherjee (MSE), Alex Denofrea (Chemistry) and Kathryn A. Perrine (Chemistry) published a paper titled “Spontaneous selective deposition of iron oxide nanoparticles on graphite as model catalysts” in Nanoscale Advances in 2019.

DOI: 10.1039/c9na00472f


Iron oxide nanomaterials participate in redox processes that give them ideal properties for their use as earth-abundant catalysts. Fabricating nanocatalysts for such applications requires detailed knowledge of the deposition and growth. We report the spontaneous deposition of iron oxide nanoparticles on HOPG in defect areas and on step edges from a metal precursor solution.

Various defects were created on the highly oriented pyrolytic graphite (HOPG) surface using either argon (Ar+) sputtering or a focused ion beam (FIB) to provide defects for nucleation sites. A Hitachi 2000 A FIB instrument was used to create tailored arrays of defects on HOPG using a Ga+ beam.

The sputter rate was calculated using the amount of materials removed, by recording a height profile of 1 nm using atomic force microscopy (AFM) and the time to sputter the pattern.

All the samples were imaged using a Hitachi S-4700 cold field emission high resolution field emission scanning electron microscopy (FE-SEM) instrument.

X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) was performed using a PHI 5800 to analyze the elemental composition and oxidation state of surface species of the iron oxide nanoparticles grown on the HOPG surface.

Scanning transmission electron microscopy (STEM) imaging and energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDS) mapping were used to measure the phase and composition of iron oxide nanoparticles after annealing and to confirm if the deposition was preferential at the defect sites of graphite. A FEI Titan Themis aberration corrected scanning transmission electron microscope was used to obtain atomically resolved electron images and EDS maps of the iron oxide nanoparticles on the graphene coated TEM grid. The microscope was operated at 200 kV using a point resolution of the aberration corrected STEM mode of 0.08 nm. The microscope was equipped with a SuperX™ X-ray detector, which is composed of 4 detectors for fast X-ray mapping in STEM mode. The EDS mapping of the sample was performed on specific particles with an average beam current of 100 pA.


Equipment for obtaining the AFM images in this project was provided by NSF CHE #1725818. The electron microscopy research was performed at the Applied Chemical and Morphological Analysis Laboratory, at Michigan Technological University. The electron microscopy facility is supported by NSF MRI 1429232. We acknowledge the Michigan Tech REF-RS fund for support of this work and the David J. and Valeria Pruett Graduate Research Fellowship. We acknowledge the Applied Chemical and Morphological Analysis Laboratory (ACMAL) for staff assistance and use of facilities.

Recommended Citation

de Alwis, C., Leftwich, T., Mukherjee, P., Denofre, A., & Perrine, K. (2019). Spontaneous selective deposition of iron oxide nanoparticles on graphite as model catalysts. Nanoscale Advances, 1(12), 4729-4744.

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