Earlier this year, the Utah Nanofab added a new tool to its arsenal of equipment: the Zeiss Xradia 620 Versa X-ray microscope.

When it comes to investigating matter on the smallest scales, highly specialized microscopes are

Most important, the Nanofab’s new microscope can acquire these images without damaging the surounding

, which was installed a few weeks later. It’s an X-ray microscope that will “provide 3D, sub-micron imaging resolution of hard, soft and biological materials,” according to the department’s announcement. “Materials can be studied under mechanical loads (up to 5 kN) and/or temperature conditions (-20 to 160 C).”

The Versa 620 is a state-of-the-art instrument that will be unique in the Intermountain West region, Utah Nanofab added. A wide range of transformative studies in various fields will be enabled, they added, including aerospace materials, semiconductor devices, additive manufactured materials, geology, biology, medicine and more.


Xoel Cardenas of the Office of the Vice President of Research spoke with the Department of Mechanical Engineering’s Jacob Hochhalter about the new instrument and how it fits into the NanoFab’s mission:


Tell us about what the Versa 620 is and what it does.

First, it’s an X-ray microscope. Starting from those two words, it should paint two pictures in your mind. The first is the commonly known X-ray image, which illustrates differences in material densities as varying contrast (light vs. dark), like differentiating a bone from its surrounding tissue. Second, the microscope part, means that researchers can make observations at small scales (think very small fractions of the diameter of a human hair). Consequently, beyond what a patient might conventionally see at the doctor, in the X-ray microscope researchers can also magnify to observe the very small length scales at which many fundamental mechanisms of materials operate.  The level of magnification can be changed on the fly so scans of larger volumes at a lower resolution can be done to detect interesting features, with a subsequent focus on higher magnification (higher resolution) to learn more about those features.

How long did it take from the beginning of the idea of wanting to acquire this machine to successfully being awarded to acquire it?

Success in these large grants requires persistence and proposals that get people excited. We submitted the proposal four times. In the first two times, the proposal was technically sound but not exciting enough to be competitive. Once we realized this sticking point we focused on building our regional and National collaborations, eventually receiving over 50 support letters from around the country.  Once we made those connections, the regional and National impact was made clear across applications in aerospace, structural, biological, and geological materials applications, to name a few.  I have been told that this is the first ‘Track 2’ (above $1.4M) NSF MRI award that Utah has led. Having learned from our early failures, we plan to capitalize on what we have learned through this process to bring more exciting instruments like this to the U.