North Carolina State University’s Analytical Instrumentation Facility (AIF), founded in 1923, is a resource for materials characterization that is available to the entire university and to external parties. AIF operates a number of major analytical instruments providing quality analyses for all who require it. These instruments are operated and maintained by a professional staff who are experienced in the design and implementation of materials characterization experiments. For those who desire hands on involvement in their analyses, AIF staff trains users to operate facility analytical instrumentation, to design efficient analytical experiments, and to properly interpret the resulting data. In addition, AIF staff is involved in the development and/or enhancement of analytical techniques in a continuing effort to provide the level of capabilities required by the ever evolving needs of the NCSU research community. AIF provides short courses as well as formal classroom instruction to insure that NCSU’s future engineers and scientists can, upon graduation, take with them an understanding of modern analytical techniques and an understanding of the instrumentation required to implement them.
The Need for Analytical Expertise
Materials characterization requires specialized understanding of the analytical techniques that are used for analysis. Incorrect interpretation of data can impede the progress of a research project resulting in significant waste of resources and funds. Simultaneously, the methods of materials characterization are becoming more and more sophisticated as they become more and more powerful. It is significant that the methods of analysis are the subject of as much research as many of the materials that they are used to analyze. AIF is an organization that enables all to benefit from the experience of a professional staff specialized in the methods of materials characterization.
The Need for a Shared Facility
Materials characterization is not without expense. In the last decade the cost of purchasing and operating analytical instruments has increased dramatically. It is not uncommon for an instrument to cost over half a million dollars, and the service contracts can also be costly. It is hard to justify such facilities standing idle when they represent such a significant investment. AIF provides a mechanism by which all can share the capabilities of these specialized instruments thus insuring optimum utilization.
Availability of AIF
AIF is administered by the College of Engineering as part of the North Carolina State system, and as such, it operates with an ‘open access’ policy. The result of this policy is that all can benefit from the services of this state sponsored analytical center. This allows the Analytical Instrument Facility to help both North Carolina industry and education in a very direct way by providing analytical services and expertise.
AIF tailors its interaction to match the needs of each different client organization. When the facility interacts with a university student, it operates as a teaching resource to the student’s home department. The facility assumes the role of tutor and works to train the student in the various modes of analysis being used for research. When the facility interacts with a research or industrial group, it operates as a technical resource for the group. If the group is knowledgeable the focus of interaction can be on efficient data acquisition. If the group is less experienced our staff can help guide the group through the design and implementation of an efficient analytical program.
Funding for AIF
The NCSU College of Engineering funds the heart of the facility, providing partial support for staff positions with some additional support for administrative services. The remainder of AIF staff and the day-to-day operational funding depends on income generated by the facility in return for analytical services. This ties much of the expense of the facility to the tangible work performed by the facility forcing AIF to operate in an efficient, cost effective manner and to provide services which are in demand. A third source of funding involves contracts and grants from industry and government agencies.
Additional AIF Services
Although the primary role of AIF is to offer materials characterization expertise, access and training, this is not its only mission. AIF is actively engaged in research to improve materials characterization. AIF research projects are driven by the needs of AIF’s user community and these efforts have resulted in tangible enhancements of the analytical capabilities of the facility. In the recent past, research projects have included the development of computer control systems for data acquisition, the development of new analytical methodologies which have expanded the analytical capabilities of AIF instruments, and the development of data processing methodologies to enable more accurate interpretation of acquired data. These research activities are significant in that they have resulted in capabilities that are initially available exclusively to users of AIF providing unique benefits to AIF users.
Education and Outreach
In addition to providing in laboratory training and assistance to users, AIF staff regularly teach short courses both at NCSU and elsewhere which acquaint users with the capabilities of modern analytical techniques. AIF staff also participate in the formal instruction of students by either teaching or assisting others in the teaching of regularly scheduled classes and laboratories. AIF also supports Educational Outreach Programs such as the ASM Materials camp, Science House and demonstrations during many of the summer programs held at NC State.