Facility Highlight: ThINC Core Facility at AERTC, Stony Brook University

Nanotech NYC sits down with students, faculty and researchers from across the greater NYC area to give those interested a glimpse into the local nanotechnology scene. Today we sit down with Dr. Chung-Chueh (Simon) Chang, Project Director and Instrumentation Scientist at the ThINC (Thermomechanical & Imaging Nanoscale Characterization) Core Facility of the Advanced Energy Research and Technology Center located at Stony Brook University.


Dr. Chung-Chueh (Simon) Chang, Project Director & Instrumentation Scientist, ThINC Core Facility at AERTC, SBU

Let’s start with you Dr. Chung-Chueh Chang. Tell us about your role at the Advanced Energy Research and Technology Center at Stony Brook University?

Thermomechanical & Imaging Nanoscale Characterization (ThINC) is a comprehensive core facility located at the Advanced Energy Research and Technology Center (AERTC) at Stony Brook University, providing instrumentation and experts as resources for advancing materials research in engineering, chemistry, physical and life sciences. I am the Project Director and Instrumentation Scientist at ThINC, responsible for the day-to-day operations, maintenance, and compliance with local EH&S regulations.


Can you give us some insight into your educational and work history?

I have over 14 years of technical experience in a broad range of materials research and thermal-mechanical characterization, including advanced microscopy imaging and relevant sample preparation and processing, including over 7 years of experience in laboratory management and environmental health and safety affairs. In addition to the technical expertise, in my many years as the Project Director and Instrumentation Scientist at ThINC, I have developed expertise in guiding and providing solutions to industrial and academic researchers for solving complex problems in materials development as well as assisting researchers in publishing in international journals, proposing research grants, and developing new techniques for their research. I received my PhD and MS in Materials Science and Engineering from Stony Brook University and a BS in Chemical and Materials Engineering from Taiwan.


Dr. Yuan Xue, Staff Scientist at ThINC, collecting data for user samples on the ZIESS Dual Beam FIB-SEM.

Can you describe what ThINC (Thermomechanical and Imaging Nanoscale Characterization) is and how it came to be?

ThINC is a core facility at the AERTC which provides sample preparation, thermo-mechanical characterization and multiscale imaging services for innovation and research in pharmaceuticals, materials design & manufacturing, medical devices, nanotechnology, agricultural technology and life sciences. ThINC is committed to providing holistic solutions to materials and nanoscience problems by providing access to world-class instrumentation, expert personnel and expanding our services based on user needs by establishing partnerships between Stony Brook University and government, university and/or industrial laboratories. ThINC was conceptualized and established in 2012 and was an integral part of the AERTC's mission of offering collaborative R&D services to industry, start-ups and academia alike. It took about 2 years to fully install major instruments and the official grand opening was held in 2014. Since its inception, ThINC has been continually growing its instrumentation capabilities as well as the scientific expertise by professional development of facility personnel to ensure the best user experience and service can be provided.


What are the facilities that fall under the ThINC umbrella?

ThINC is a comprehensive core facility consisting of tools for (a) multiscale imaging and characterization microscopy, such as transmission electron microscope (TEM), focused ion beam-scanning electron microscope (FIB-SEM), atomic force microscope (AFM), and confocal microscope, (b) thermal-mechanical suite, including thermal gravimetric analysis (TGA), differential scanning calorimetry (DSC), dynamic mechanical analysis (DMA), and thermal conductivity meter, and (c) sample preparation station providing a robust set of equipment for needed samples of (cryogenic) microscopy imaging and characterization. ThINC provides its users access to these state-of-the-art instruments for advancing their research in drug discovery, nanotechnology, life sciences and materials design through chemical, crystallographic, mechanical, morphological, optical, and thermal characterization. More recently, we have been building a collaborative network with other facilities both at SBU and outside to provide our users access to instruments we currently do not have at ThINC.


ThINC offers a suite of facilities including sample preparation, materials synthesis, imaging and chemical characterization facilities.

Can you give us an idea of who the users of the facilities typically are?

Since we are a comprehensive core facility, our users are diverse in terms of sector focus as well as organizational origins. Our users come from start-ups, industry, research labs, as well as universities and, are from a very broad range of fields, including but not limited to pharmaceuticals, engineering, chemistry, physical and life sciences and agricultural technology. In the fiscal year 2019-2020, we have served over 100 researchers from different groups. About 80% of users are from Stony Brook University, Stony Brook Medicine and Stony Brook Dental School. About 20% of users are from local industries, mostly are startup companies. While ThINC kept its doors closed during the early days of the pandemic, we were able to reopen while following all safety measures for the protection of our users and staff, and have been advancing our mission to provide guidance and research opportunities to new and existing users.


Who maintains the facilities?

ThINC team includes me and Dr. Yuan Xue interfacing directly with our users and focusing on data acquisition, analysis, and consulting as well as Dr. Shruti Sharma, Program Manager, focusing on user relations and ThINC's business development. I am primarily responsible for the smooth, safe, and sustainable operations of the instrumentations as well as providing adequate user training when requested. Dr. Yuan Xue, our experienced scientist, also supports the maintenance of facilities including safety, gas supplies and general supplies. Additionally, we also have service contracts for major advanced instruments maintenance to maximize operational time and minimize instrument downtime if a situation arises. As mentioned, if desired, ThINC is equipped to train users who wish to engage in long term research activities, allowing them to utilize the facilities independently once trained and authorized.


Users who wish to utilize ThINC facilities on a long term recurring basis have the option to get trained and authorized for independent instrument access.

What is the process like for someone who wants to start using the facility?

Our process is very simple, prospective users are welcome to contact us directly for inquiries through email (thinc@stonybrook.edu) or phone (631-216-7412). We encourage users to have an informative discussion with us to ensure the adequate assistance would be provided by ThINC. After the discussion, users will fill out the service request form for scheduling either sample measurements or training sessions. If a user is sending in samples, our typical turnaround time is 5-7 business days, barring any emergencies. The ThINC staff works with the users closely through the entire process from inquiries through data acquisition and analysis as needed. More information on available facilities and instrument capabilities can be found on our website: https://www.stonybrook.edu/commcms/thinc/index.php.

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Can you give us a few examples of industrial development that the labs facilitate?

We have served several local industrial institutions including start-ups for advancing their R&D and prototyping efforts. Here are a couple of examples that we have their permissions to disclose. Bettergy Corp., an energy materials and nanotechnology company developing advanced battery and nanopore engineered membrane technologies has taken advantage of our nano-imaging and characterization capabilities to move forward their SBIR project from Phase I to Phase II. Another example is SPOT SIZE, a startup company that provides high-quality carbon film-coated TEM grids for the TEM community. They have benefited in the development of their products by obtaining useful insights from TEM characterization. In the words of many of our users "by providing access to expensive but crucial instrumentation as well as experienced staff scientists committed to helping the users, ThINC removes a major roadblock for small businesses and thrusts their R&D efforts".


Examples of data collected at ThINC.

Can you give us some examples of academic research that is going on in the facilities?

We have assisted more than 90 academic users since our inception. The research group, led by Dr. Miriam Rafailovich, has been conducting a wide range of research, including nanoscale materials engineering, photovoltaic polymers, nanocomposites, flame retardant materials, biodegradable polymers, tissue engineering, 3D printing and biomedical additive manufacturing. Dr. Rafailovich's group acquired cryo and regular Images from FIB-SEM and TEM to study nanocomposites, soft materials, and biomaterials. They have utilized Immunolabeling confocal microscopy and conducted thermo-mechanical studies for tissue engineering, 3D printing and biomedical additive manufacturing. Another research group, led by Dr. Benjamin Hsiao, has utilized our services for developing new nanofiber technologies, based on electrospun nanofibers and natural nanostructured cellulose materials, for health, environmental, and energy applications. The data acquired by both groups has been published in high-Impact peer-reviewed journals such as Macromolecules, ACS Applied Nano Materials, ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering, etc. as well as has been presented at many national and international conferences.

ThINC encourages interested people to initiate a conversation with our staff about how to send in samples, what is the right technique to study your products or jointly collaborate on grants and funding opportunities. Planning is underway for virtual open houses to begin in the first quarter of 2021.

ThINC Website: https://www.stonybrook.edu/commcms/thinc/

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