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Quake damages costly electron microscopes at Osaka University

The damaged ultrahigh voltage electron microscopes. (Images courtesy of the Osaka University Research Center for Ultra-High Voltage Electron Microscopy)

OSAKA -- A powerful quake that struck western Japan on June 18 damaged two electron microscopes at Osaka University each costing about 2.3 billion yen and caused setbacks for pioneering stem cell research, it has been learned.

It is expected to take at least a year to repair damage to the two microscopes at the Osaka University Research Center for Ultra-High Voltage Electron Microscopy. One is the 17-meter-tall "3 megavolt ultrahigh voltage electron microscope," which has the highest voltage in the world for such a microscope, and enables scientists to look inside even thick samples. The other is a 12-meter-high "materials- and bio-science ultra-high voltage electron microscope" that can capture 1,600 images of the movements of a single atom every second. The microscope technology allows scientists to grab images down to a size of one nanometer (one-billionth of a meter), showing the detailed composition of materials and organisms, and even damage to materials from radiation.

The quake caused debilitating damage to the two microscopes, toppling a part that produces high voltages and significantly warping an electron accelerator that needs to be highly accurate. Center Director Hidehiro Yasuda, a materials science specialist, commented, "They're wrecked. We'll contact the manufacturers and local factories and try to get them repaired, but it will take at least a year before they're completely restored."

Meanwhile, Osaka University Hospital in the Osaka Prefecture city of Suita banned people from entering a facility on its fourth floor that handles hazardous materials until the evening of June 20, to avoid anyone becoming trapped inside in the event of an aftershock.

Yoshiki Sawa, a professor at the facility specializing in cardiovascular surgery, and other researchers had been cultivating iPS cells for a clinical study in which sheets of heart muscle cells were to be transplanted into the bodies of patients with serious heart ailments. Due to the quake, the necessary nutritional management of the cells was discontinued, and it was decided to cultivate them anew. This could cause delays to the world's first transplant using such sheets, which researchers had aimed to carry out this fiscal year.

Separately, at the Senriyama Campus of Kansai University, a water pipe in the ceiling of the top floor of a four-story laboratory building burst, causing water to leak into the laboratory. To guard against electrical leaks, the use of some rooms in the building will be banned until they have completely dried out.

(Japanese original by Ryo Watanabe, Shinpei Torii and Shuichi Abe, Science & Environment News Department)

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