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Honoring a leading light in ASU research

June 28, 2010

The John Wheatley Education and Outreach Room was recently dedicated at Arizona State University’s LeRoy Eyring Center for Solid State Science.

Wheatley managed the center’s John M. Cowley Center for High Resolution Electron Microscopy lab for 25 years before his death in 2005. He was responsible for operations of what is one of the nation’s largest collections of electron microscopes. He is credited by colleagues for his contributions to making it one of the leading electron microscopy facilities in the world.

Electron microscopy can be used to observe matter at the atomic level, making it possible to identify the fundamental nature of even a single atom. It is an essential tool for advanced scientific and engineering research and for technology development by industry.

The Wheatley Room will be used for Science is Fun, an education outreach program for middle school and high school students, as well as for training and education of university students, for teachers from K-12 schools and colleges, and for use by university faculty and industry researchers.

Wheatley “was internationally acknowledged for his technical knowledge, but also for his willingness to share that knowledge,” said Nathan Newman, director of the LeRoy Eyring Center in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and a professor in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

“He enthusiastically gave tours of the microscopy center to everyone from school children to visiting dignitaries,” Newman said.

Eyring Center professor and researcher Ray Carpenter said Wheatley established a tradition of excellence through his day-to-day management of the lab.

“Electron microscopes are complex electromechanical instruments that require constant attention and care to operate at peak performance levels. John Wheatley was remarkably successful at this task,” Carpenter said.

The lab’s history of success under Wheatley’s watch, he said, was a significant factor in gaining support from the National Science Foundation in recent years for the center to acquire state-of-the-art aberration-corrected electron microscopes, due to be installed in 2011.

Eyring Center researcher David Wright said many scientists and engineers have Wheatley to thank for their success in microscopy.

Wheatley was Wright’s supervisor on the use of the lab’s focused-beam ion etching and deposition tool in high-resolution microscopy. [See]

“He taught me how to think about the best ways to make use of electron microscopes, and to balance my time between work in the materials science and engineering facility and the microscopy center,” Wright said.

“He was always cheerful, thoughtful, generous and devoted to helping others,” he said. “I could not have succeeded without John’s steadfast support.”

Sumio Iijima, a former ASU researcher and the 2008 recipient of the first-ever Kavli Prize in Nanoscience, named Wheatley as “the best lab technician” at ASU during the 12 years (1970-1982) they worked together – a span that Iijima noted was “a golden time” in his research career.

For all those reasons, Wheatley’s colleagues said, the dedication of the Wheatley Room is significant not only for ASU researchers but for members of the microscopy community throughout the country and around the world.