Published: Nov. 18, 2021 By

Following the joint Materials Instrumentation and Multimodal Imaging Core (MIMIC) Facility and Colorado Shared Instrumentation in Nanofabrication and Characterization (COSINC) facility virtual webinar on Nov. 18, Associate Professor Wil Srubar shares the importance of having core facilities at public institutions.

The value of having access to state-of-the-art equipment and expert staff cannot be overstated when working towards groundbreaking research. The centralization at core facilities can be key to improving research efficiency.

The amount of research happening at the technology-based labs housed in the Research & Innovation Office is proof of that. There are 23 core facilities in all, including the Materials Instrumentation and Multimodel Imaging Core (MIMIC) facility.

Wil Srubar

Above: Wil Srubar
Header image: Renishaw InVia - Raman Microscope​ used in Combined Raman and Nanoindentation system.

The MIMIC facility contains equipment that allows researchers to view materials down to the submicron scale. Wil Srubar, one of the faculty members behind MIMIC – along with Principal Investigator Virginia Ferguson – emphasized the unique suite of characterization instruments at the facility.

“The high-resolution, 4D X-ray microscope and the coupled Raman-nanoindentation system are especially unique,” said Srubar, an associate professor of civil and architectural engineering and materials science. “Very few exist along the Front Range, so we are very lucky to have these exceptional resources right here at the University of Colorado Boulder.”

Srubar is just one of the faculty members using the equipment in the MIMIC facility. MIMIC is open to researchers in academic, industrial and individual fields.

“Core facilities like MIMIC enable instrument access to multiple researchers on campus,” Srubar said. “This is important because the instruments get much more usage if multiple faculty members, postdocs and student researchers have access to them. Shared facilities enable CU Boulder to maximize the resources on campus.”

Srubar and his colleagues have explored a number of projects using the instruments in the MIMIC facility. He said in one study published in Scientific Reports, a Nature publication, his team used the Raman-nanoindentation system to show that engineered microorganisms can tailor the nanomechanical properties of precipitated calcium carbonate.

In other words, Srubar was able to turn microbes into architects of tiny crystals by manipulating their genes. His team genetically programmed E. coli to create limestone particles. The Raman-nanoindentation system helped the team not only view the materials, but also deliver the mechanical and chemical characteristics of the material.

Inside the Hysitron TI 950 TriboIndenter used in the Combined Raman and Nanoindentation ​system.

Srubar’s research in the MIMIC facility has also focused on finding sustainable and durable construction methods to reduce ts carbon footprint.

“We have extensively used the 4D X-ray microscope to characterize the porosity of new conventional and alternative cement pasts,” Srubar said. “Porosity is an important parameter that affects the long-term durability of new concrete materials.”

Srubar’s hope is to decarbonize the construction industry by developing biomimetic and bioengineered materials that store carbon for millennia. He explained that currently, more than 11% of global carbon dioxide emissions are due to manufacturing building materials.

“We believe new material technologies, such as the ones we are studying in my lab and characterizing using instruments from the MIMIC facility, will accelerate the transformation of our building environment into massive carbon sinks,” Srubar said. “The MIMIC facility is enabling us to make groundbreaking advances toward that goal.”