How Microanalysis With Image Processing Replaced the Telescope for Carnegie Institution of Washington

The Carnegie Institution of Washington, a private, nonprofit organization, has engaged in basic research and advanced education in biology, astronomy, and the earth sciences. It has been a pioneering research organization, devoted to fields of inquiry that its trustees and staff consider among the most significant in the development of science and scholarship.

The Carnegie Institution of Washington uses PV-WAVE to analyze dust particles trapped inside meteorites, which helps them study the star formation process. Because of its excellent analysis and visualization capabilities, PV-WAVE is used for several different projects at the Institution.

PV-WAVE Delivered

Enhanced Productivity

Analysis and Visualization

Image Processing

"PV-WAVE was selected because of its image and data processing routines,

ease-of programming, and interprocess communication capabilities. I am using PV-WAVE for a number of different projects at the Institution, all related to SIMS."

What the Carnegie Institution Does

Understanding Earth and Its Role in the Universe

From its earliest years, the Carnegie Institution has been a pioneering research organization, devoted to fields of inquiry that its trustees and staff consider among the most significant in the development of science. Its funds are used primarily to support investigations at its own research departments. Recognizing that fundamental research is closely related to the development of outstanding young scholars, the Institution conducts a strong program of advanced education at the predoctoral and postdoctoral levels. The Institution also conducts programs for elementary school teachers and children in Washington, D.C.

Of the five research groups, the work of the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism (DTM) is perhaps the most tangible to the millions of people around the world fascinated by the popular Star Wars and Star Trek movies. DTM's scientists bring the perspectives of several disciplines to broad questions about nature. The Department's name comes from its original role to chart the Earth's magnetic field. This goal was largely accomplished by 1929. Since then, DTM has evolved to reflect the growing multidisciplinary nature of the earth, planetary and astronomical sciences. Today, the department's goal remains the same as originally conceived — to conduct scientific research that aids in the understanding of the physical Earth and its role in the universe.

Larry R. Nittler, a postdoctoral research fellow in DTM, has worked for the Institution for more than two years. He conducts basic scientific research in astrophysics and cosmochemistry. "I am primarily interested in presolar grains in meteorites and in the development of new techniques for isotopic analysis and mapping of small samples," he said.

Presolar grains are literally bits of stars that can be studied in the laboratory. They are condensed from the gas phase in the cooling outflows of stars (such as red giants and supernova explosions) billions of years ago, before the formation of the solar system. Because the atoms in these grains are the original atoms from the parent stars, scientists can study this stardust to probe processes that occur inside stars and in the interstellar medium. Thus, the discovery of presolar grains has essentially opened up a new branch of astronomy, where laboratory microanalytical instrumentation takes the place of telescopes.

How PV-WAVE Helps Them Do It

They Needed an Image Processing Tool for SIMS 

To perform microanalysis on presolar grains, Nittler uses a process called secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS), a technique for precisely determining the chemical and isotopic composition of materials on a very small scale. For SIMS to yield the desired results, however, Nittler needed to add an image processing component to his laboratory toolbox. To meet this requirement, he selected PV-WAVE.

PV-WAVE is an array-oriented fourth-generation programming language (4GL) used by engineers, scientists, researchers, business analysts, and software developers to easily build and deploy visual data analysis (VDA) applications. These applications let users visualize and manipulate complex or extremely large technical datasets to detect and display patterns, trends, anomalies, and other vital information. The software includes hundreds of mathematical and statistical routines from the IMSL Numerical Libraries, as well as image processing, signal processing, mapping, and general data manipulation features.

"I am using PV-WAVE for a number of different projects at the Institution, all related to SIMS. I have developed a new system to automatically measure small particles using our SIMS instrument. In this system, which I run on a Sun Microsystems workstation, images of dispersed particles are produced by the instrument and PV-WAVE is used to automatically locate the coordinates of the grains in the images. Once the grains are found, they are analyzed for their isotopic and chemical composition. This system is allowing us to efficiently locate rare types of presolar grains, which are of great scientific interest."

In another project, Nittler uses SIMS to explore isotopic variations on very small scales in natural samples, including dust particles from comets collected in the upper atmosphere and fossils. "For this project," Nittler explained, "high spatial-resolution images in different isotopes are acquired and PV-WAVE is used to process the images. In particular, I have developed a PV-WAVE application that allows the user to interactively view the ion images and quantitatively determine isotopic ratios in different regions of the imaged samples."

Nittler said he selected PV-WAVE for his image processing needs because he had "considerable experience" with the software during graduate school. In addition, he likes the software's image and data processing routines, ease-of-programming, and interprocess communication capabilities. Nittler added that he's been "extremely happy" with Perforce's service and technical support and that PV-WAVE's printed manuals and online help are excellent.

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