We have an old and broken scientific instrument. Want to help us repair it?

We've recently acquired a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM). Unlike a regular microscope that works with visible light, a SEM works with an electron beam. This makes it possible to observe structures as small as a single molecule.

The SEM which we acquired is an analog model that dates from the 80ies. It weights roughly 300kg. Until recently, it was still perfectly functional. When it stopped working, its previous owner set it up for sale on the internet. When he noticed how motivated we were to repair the SEM, he gave it to us for free.

In this video Beat and Johannes explain how our SEM works - and what does not work!

But why would anyone want to spend time and energy repairing an old piece of scientific equipment? After all, a SEM is quite a complex tool, and nobody at Octanis has any experience with this type of project.

Working on this SEM means analysing and understanding a complex elecronic system. Such a skill is useful to anyone working in engineering. Debugging this SEM means learning how to solve various electronic problems in practice - on a system that is quite different from the ones typically shown in class. And that the SEM is old and analog is actually an advantage: All parts are discrete and can easily be replaced. All that is needed are basic tools - and quite some patience!

Starting such a project can be intimidating. Where to start? What if it doesn't work out? But rather than letting being paralysed by such questions, such a project should be seen as a valuable learning opportunity. When starting such a complex project, it is difficult to know whether we actually have the necessary skills - or what these skills are. But it is only by starting to work on it that it is possible to know which skills are needed, and it is only by keeping on working on the project that we can acquire these skills.

If you too would like to embark on this adventure, don't hesitate to join us for this project! No matter your specialisation, no matter whether you're a first year student or a professional - anybody can contribute to repairing the SEM.

Can't wait to learn more? Find the entire documentation here and a summary of the project here!

Sam Sulaimanov