University of South Carolina

Cool Science

By Peggy Binette and Jeff Stensland 

Examples of cool science are in labs around Carolina’s campus. Some of the tools researchers use look more ordinary than others. But individually and collectively they provide images and information that are extraordinary, revealing insights that help researchers unlock the mysteries of the mind and the depths of the ocean floor and ensure that rare historical treasures are shared with current and future generations.

SR Research Eyelink 1000

Research Eyelink 1000

An eye tracker shows where a person looks when reading, viewing a photograph or watching a video. Its precision is to the millisecond and pixel. Used by psychology professors John Henderson and Fernanda Ferreira as well as other USC neuroscientists, post-doctoral investigators and graduate students, the eye tracker allows researchers to draw inferences about underlying cognitive processes. USC scientists are pioneering the integration of eye-tracking with neuroimaging methods like EEG (electroencephalogram), fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) and tDCS (transcranial direct-current stimulation) to study the link between cognitive processes and neural activity. The eye tracker will join other neuroscience equipment in the newly established USC Institute for Mind and Brain.

Marine Sonic Technology Towfish


This sonogram reveals the wrecked blockade runners Georgiana and Mary Bowers, located off Isle of Palms, S.C., from the Civil War.  The side-scan sonar, used by Jim Spirek and other underwater archaeologists in the South Carolina Institute for Archaeology and Anthropology, uses a 600 kilohertz acoustic beam to bathe the bottom of rivers, bays or oceans in sound waves and then retrieves the echo of waves bouncing off features protruding off the bottom. It captures images of shipwrecks, dock pilings, trees or sand ridges that, if deemed significant, may lead to reconnaissance dives for further investigation. Side-scan sonars play a critical role in helping Spirek and other underwater archaeologists search for the maritime archaeological legacy residing in state waters.


Zeutschel scanner


Kate Boyd and her team in University Libraries’ Digital Collections use the Zeutschel large-format overhead scanner to digitize large rare books, maps and other materials that could not otherwise be captured because of their fragility or size. Pictured here is “The Carolina Parrot” from USC’s Audubon collection. When acquired in 2010 it was the only Zeutschel 14000 A0 scanner in North America. The Zeutschel has contributed to more than 10,000 images as part of the Library’s more than 100 digital collections.  It is housed in the Ernest F. Hollings Special Collections Library.


LIDAR system


The Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) system is similar to radar, but uses a laser beam. Professor April Hiscox with the Department of Geography uses the custom-made machine to study dispersion patterns in plumes, such as the smoke from burning sugar cane fields. The 3-D images allow Hiscox to track plume patterns and predict where they’re going. The research is used to help industries better plan burning and spraying activities so they don’t interfere with local residents. It can also ensure pesticides stay concentrated over their desired area, saving farmers money.  


Zeiss Ultraplus Thermal Field Emission Scanning Electron Microscope

Zeiss microscope

The Zeiss Scanning Electron Microscope is designed to capture high-resolution images of surface features, and it can also distinguish elemental makeup when coupled with a special X-ray detector. The device shoots electrons over the surface of materials to produce a revealing image with details suitable for high-resolution imaging of both biological and non-biological specimens. The Zeiss is employed by numerous disciplines. Some current research at USC has used the Zeiss to study the micro features of diatoms (algae), conch shells, fuel cells, nanomaterials and polymer nanocomposites. Many have used the Zeiss to examine the distribution and abundance of specific elements on their specimens.


JEOL 2100F Transmission Electron Microscope


This $3 million microscope is the most expensive single piece of equipment in the Electron Microscopy Center. The microscope is designed to study detail on super fine scales, drilling down on objects smaller than nanometers, which is roughly equal to one billionth of a meter. Electrons pass through specimens and send signals that form images. Researchers at USC use the JEOL to study the atomic-scale features and chemical composition of a wide variety of extremely small structures, including nanorods and nanowires. 

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Posted: 01/03/13 @ 12:00 AM | Updated: 01/03/13 @ 3:15 PM | Permalink



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