Malcolm Thomas is the Electron Microscopy Facility Manager at the Cornell Center for Materials Research. He goes over his rich history in the field of electron microscopy, speaks on working with his equipment, and training students to become the best microscopists possible.

Innovators in Electron Microscopy

Dr. Malcolm Thomas

“We’re very fortunate here, we have a wide range of student interest and skill levels. Some have used an SEM before and are ready, while others have never used one in their life. We’re bringing them up to an expert level on it, quickly.”

Dr. Malcolm Thomas
Electron Microscopy Facility Manager
Cornell Center for Materials Research
Materials Science and Electron Microscopy
21 Years ZEISS-Specific EM Experience

I started working in the field of electron microscopy over 30 years ago. Outside of the lab my wife and I have had the pleasure of raising three wonderful daughters. Inside the lab I have had the opportunity to work with and learn from world-class faculty. I have particularly enjoyed working with students and helping them to become proficient operating electron microscopes. Through it all I find every day to be different as we image and analyze a wide variety of samples; everything from transistors to ice cream, from metal from the Eiffel Tower to paint from world-famous paintings. Someday I will retire, but my love of microscopy will not.

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What does success look like for you?

“Working with the students and training them is the most enjoyable part for me. I enjoy helping someone who started and knows nothing – teaching them, encouraging them, working with them, getting to the point where they are doing really great work on the SEM. Seeing that progress, being able to help them obtain good research results which ultimately end up in publications is very enjoyable. The GeminiSEM has been the principal interest and I have a number of students who thank me very much for the help.”

For decades ZEISS FE-SEM has been enabling researchers in facilities where user hands-on SEM experience can vary extremely. Malcolm Thomas has been working in the field of electron microscopy for over 30 years. He shares his endeavors to impart this knowledge to the students and users at Cornell’s CCMR.

Do your users find the microscope easy to use?

“Absolutely. That’s one of the selling points to the whole SEM. You come to use the instrument and you can get really great images, very quickly. It’s really good that way. They find it very easy; the controls are very simple and laid out really well. I have not heard anybody complain the operation is too complicated and all the users definitely enjoy using the GeminiSEM.”

Are there any projects you’d like to highlight?

“To be perfectly honest, all the projects that come through are interesting in their own right. The diversity of samples is incredible. One particularly interesting one to me is a project that has since concluded. A MEMS device was failing – It was causing problems at quite a macroscopic scale. Ultimately the source of the problem had to be investigated at the nanometer scale to uncover the root cause. It was fascinating to see how understanding the problem at the microscopic scale translated to a big problem macroscopically.”

Is sample type flexibility important to your facility?

"One of the things we like about the GeminiSEM is that it’s not just low voltage capable – I would call it ultra-low voltage capability. We’ve done imaging at 200 Volts without any stage or sample bias. That’s the nice thing about the GeminiSEM – it’s very simple to use for a newcomer while offering more exotic and challenging techniques. Our users study semiconductor material, MEMS devices, beam-sensitive polymers, sometimes even biological samples, and more.”

Uncoated, Natural Butterfly Wing – Image Taken in Variable Pressure Mode

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