Arts & Entertainment

KU art department uses science for various crystals in glazing

By Camille Bentley
Contributing Writer 

In early November, a scanning electron microscope, or SEM, was donated to KU by Fred and Martha Hafer. It is now being used in several departments at the university, including art, geology and biology, among several others.

“The Hafers have been loyal supporters of Kutztown for many years. [The SEM was donated because] Mrs. Hafer was looking to honor Mr. Hafer, and as a result, the family decided it would be a fitting tribute to put both of their names on the SEM lab,” said Alex Ogeka, the executive director of the KU Foundation Team.

“There were a few options presented to Mrs. Hafer regarding donations, and she liked this one due to the advanced technology behind it. In addition, one of their sons, Fred Hafer Jr., was a physics major at Kutztown, and she thought that the microscope would be an honorary gift to not only her husband but also her son,” Okega explained.

So far, the microscope has been helpful with research in several departments.

Gwendolyn Yoppolo, an art professor of ceramics at KU, has used the microscope to examine some of the crystal patterns in her glazes. Her goal is to figure out which firing cycle works best for creating different crystal patterns in certain glazes.

“It uses an electron beam instead of light and can analyze the chemical composition of your sample. When the electron beam hits the specimen, two types of electrons are formed: secondary electrons and backscattered electrons. Essentially, this allows us to analyze the chemical composition of a sample,” Yoppolo said when asked about how the microscope was used in ceramics.

The advanced magnification is necessary for Yoppolo because she needs to study the chemical compositions of the crystals in order to understand how they form as a result of the firing process. Prior to the SEM, Yoppolo didn’t have any resources to examine the crystals found in her glazes.

“Doing this research has taught me how these ingredients function in glazes as well as with each other. I don’t know if the microscope will direct me in terms of where to take my research, but I value having that information to further my understanding of my work,” said Alexandra Koch, a KU student also doing glaze research.

As far as students in the art department, not many have used the SEM for projects or research. The microscope does require training before use. 

Professor Kurt Friehauf is the faculty in charge of acquiring and overseeing the operation of the electron microscope and its associated laboratory. He also trains and supervises students who wish to use it.

Upon asking what ways the microscope and the lab will benefit the university, Okega explained it’s great for recruiting purposes because not many universities have such high-tech pieces of equipment. Local businesses have also reached out to KU in regards to the microscope, hoping to use it at some point.

“The Hafers are one of the most supportive families we have at the university not only philanthropically but also with their time and their resources,” Okega said. He further explained how it is Mrs. Hafer’s hope that their gift will inspire others to give back to the KU family.

Categories: Arts & Entertainment

1 reply »

  1. It is more likely that Professor Yoppolo is using the SEM to produce high resolution visual images of the crystalline microstructure of ceramic glazes, differing in composition and processing history, well beyond what could be accomplished with an optical microscope. The use of Auger spectroscopy via the back-scattered electrons to report on the chemical composition of the glazes would be of lesser importance. If composition was all that she was interested in, she could have borrowed the handheld XRF spectrometer that the Anthropology Department has owned for years. Does anyone ever fact check anything in the Keystone News, ever?