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Electron Microscope Unit - Research Interests and Current Projects

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The Electron Microscope Unit (EMU) at UWC was commissioned by Prof Dirk Knoesen in 1983 when UWC purchased its first Scanning Electron Microscope (Hitachi X650) and Transmission Electron Microscope (Hitachi H800). Both these instruments are still in operation and are functioning very well. The SEM is a 40 kV instrument equipped with Energy Dispersive Spectroscopy (EDS), while the TEM is a 200kV instrument. Both instruments have been fitted with a digital image acquisition system. Over the last ten years more than a hundred postgraduate students have conducted research in the EMU after receiving training on our electron microscopes, and have subsequently graduated.

The EMU has recently acquired South Africa’s first new Field Emission TEM (the Tecnai F20) equipped with EDS, STEM (Scanning TEM), EELS (Electron Energy Loss Spectroscopy) and a HAADF (High Angle Angular Dark Field) detector. HAADF signals come from electrons which are elastically scattered and makes high resolution intensity imaging of single atom columns routinely possible, provided the probe size is sufficiently small (about 0.2 nm and smaller). EELS (or PEELS) on the other hand, utilizes an energy filtering system for the in-elastically scattered high energy electrons, thereby allowing the user to gain qualitative and quantitative elemental information about the specimen, as well as structural information. Software for 3D reconstruction and resolution enhancement (True image) is also available. This new FEG TEM is considered a national facility, which implies that researchers from all educational research institutions in the country, have access to this magnificent machine.

The EMU also possesses most of the specimen preparation equipment needed to prepare samples for the SEM and TEM.

The EMU is currently being managed by Dr Basil Julies.

Current Projects

Research activities in the Electron Microscope Unit at UWC include the following.


  • Development of nanocrystalline silicon thin films

  • Nanomateri

  • als synthesis and applications

  • Supported nanophase electrocatalysts

  • Structural analysis of Micro and Mesoporous materials

  • The study of filaments in a hot wire chemical vapour deposition process

  • The development of a zeolite-modified biosensor or chemical sensor for the detection of environmental pollutants

  • Fabrication of nanoclusters by electrophoretic deposition

  • Characterisation of multiwalled carbon nanotubes

  • Characterisation of WO3 nanorods and ZnO nanostructures

  • Studies in nanolithography

  • The development of semiconductor devices on the basis of printed nanocrystalline silicon and related materials

  • Stress induced diffusion of point defects in crystalline and amorphous solids

  • Growth formation of single and multiwall carbon nanotubes (SWCNT and MWCNT) using the HWCVD process

  • Manufacturing of MEMS (micro electro-mechanical machines)- at CPUT

  • Lithium batteries and fuel cell materials

  • Hydrogen separation using membrane technology

  • Demonstration PEMFC and DMFC Systems and Composites

Advanced Materials

  • Development of photovoltaic material for solar cells

  • The development of an inorganic direct methanol fuel cell with a special emphasis of the development of membranes (inorganic and composite) with high conductivity and less methanol crossover.

  • The development of hydrogen separation membranes

  • Development of catalyst for steam reforming (hydrogen production)

  • Structural analysis of hydrogenated amorphous silicon films

  • Elemental and structural analysis of rare earth superconducting film

  • Structural analysis of fibre, yarns and fabrics

  • Development of new catalytic materials

Biological Studies

  • A comparative study between the bathyergus and the georychus capensis ( i.e. mole rats)

  • The response of shallow water benthic foraminifera to eutrophication around South Africa, with an assessment of their utility as potential indicators of environmental health.

  • The effect of in utero compromise on fetal and neonatal lung development and long term consequences

Medicinal compounds and health

  • Observation of changes in the structure of compounds aiming towards improving the solubility of poorly water soluble drugs

  • The effect of maternal nicotine exposure on fetal and neonatal lung development

  • Electron microscopy of developing rat lung and the effect of maternal nicotine exposure and the protective effect of copper.

  • A study of bioceramic materials for use in transplants

  • Studies involving changes in cellular ultra structure in pathological conditions e.g. H.I.V., TB etc

  • Studies of ultra structure of normal cellular organella

  • Studies in normal and abnormal histological architecture

  • Visualisation of biological samples relating to different aspects of food technology.

  • Imaging and elemental mapping of biological material

  • Taxonomic research of foraminifera, Porifera, Bryozoa and marine algae

  • 3-D Imaging of DNA and chromatin structure, protein/enzyme interactions, protein adsorption, bio-macromolecules, various cell morphologies, membranes and viruses.

Geology and Metallurgy

  •  An exploration for Pb-Zn deposits in South Africa and an identification of minerals in ores mined in South Africa

  • Metal tracer studies in silicide formation

  • The analysis of metallurgical phases and transformation induced strains.

  • The effect of thermo-mechanical cycling on shape memory alloy microstructure.

  • Morphology, mineralogy, composition and phase changes in Coal Combustion Byproducts


  • Zeolites prepared from waste products

  • Characterization and analysis of the zeolites structural properties

  • Developing zeolites for use in water purification and catalytic processes

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