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Nondestructive Analysis (NOVA) Center


The NOVA Center was established in 2011 at Western Kentucky University as a home to one of the world’s largest Large Chamber Scanning Electron Microscopes (LC-SEM). The center has laboratory and office space at the WKU Center for Research and Development.

With a traditional scanning electron microscope (SEM), one of the most confronted challenges for materials scientists is the limitation of the size of the sample being tested. These samples are normally small, and on the order of ten to a hundred millimeters in diameter. Given this constraint, there is a limit on the samples that can be analyzed using this important testing technique. The LC-SEM at the NOVA Center is an answer to overcome this and many other challenges in nondestructive analysis. The LC-SEM can accommodate samples up to 1500 mm in diameter and 650 lbs due to the size of the vacuum chamber and the Extended View capabilities of the optic system.

The chamber, which is built to achieve a maximum of high vacuum @ 10-6 mbar, with the work of the powerful Vacuum System that consists of three pumps: rotary vane and rotary lobe pumps for low vacuum applications and a powerful Turbo pump for operation in high vacuum. This system has sufficient capacity to outgas the specimens placed in the chamber and can achieve the desired vacuum levels in only 45 minutes under the appropriate conditions. Built with multi layer walls, the chamber design also assures protection from any external magnetic fields.

The LC-SEM is also equipped with a patented positioning system that allows views from different angles by moving the electron gun and detectors, as well as the sample, somehow identical to the behavior of human beings – the principle behind the concept of the design of the positioning system. If humans look at a small object, they will turn around the object and the human eye – the visualization system – is fixed. When looking to a larger object, the human will move around the object in order to observe it completely. The first case is similar to the situation in standard SEM's, while the latter reflects the situation for the LC-SEM. Analysis completed inside LC- SEM takes on a whole new meaning. The microscope has a 5+1 axis capable of rotating and moving the sample, as well as the complete optic system. By using a micro-step control to operate the axis, it's possible to test various angles of the sample, reducing the number of load cycles.


To conduct advanced research to solve real world problems, provide educational experiences to students, and advance the high tech development of the region.


  • To provide all the resources necessary for development and commercialization of novel products to companies, scholars and inventors.
  • To become a center for professional preparation and training of a new class of scientist and engineers, capable of working at the industrial facilities of a new generation.
  • To contribute to the research and economic development of the state of Kentucky.

Student Outcomes

Students have opportunity to learn how to operate SEM and to learn specifics of usage of large chamber SEM. LC-SEM can be used in various scientific projects in, for example, non-destructive testing, in-situ analysis, failure analysis. Students are encouraged to become involved in all of these projects.

Core Expertise: 

Non-destructive Testing

In-situ Analysis

Failure Analysis

Core Products 

Non-destructive failure analysis



For more information visit the NOVA Center home page here




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 Last Modified 9/17/20