Posted: March 30, 2010

New generation of electron microscopes promises up to three times sharper nano images

(Nanowerk News) The University of Illinois at Chicago will become the first university in the world to have a new generation of electron microscope, promising views up to three times sharper than instruments now commonly used and providing a unique tool for the Midwest's academic and industrial research community.
Robert Klie, assistant professor of physics, was awarded a $2 million National Science Foundation grant to acquire an aberration-corrected scanning transmission electron microscope, or STEM. The sophisticated instrument will let scientists see individual atoms, helping them better understand how materials function.
"By improving the resolution we can decrease the blurring, so we'll see atoms that were previously indistinguishable," said Klie, who previously worked with a comparable instrument at the Brookhaven National Laboratory.
Unlike optical microscopes that use visible light to illuminate a sample, transmission electron microscopes view samples using a carefully controlled beam of electrons accelerated to nearly the speed of light. With aberration correction, UIC's STEM will provide sharper images and have reduced electron energy blur, which improves color distinction.
"UIC is the first of any university in the world to get a STEM with these specific capabilities," Klie said. "It's unique."
UIC's STEM will also be the only one in the Midwest, and one of only a few in the U.S. Comparable instruments are at the Brookhaven, Oak Ridge and Lawrence Berkeley national laboratories.
UIC's STEM will allow a range of electron velocities. Slower electrons will limit damage to biological samples and certain nanostructures such as nanotubes, while faster electrons will enhance and sharpen images through the state-of-the-art aberration correction feature.
"With the aberration correctors, you can correct for the decreased resolution of slower electrons and still get the atomic resolution, even at these low acceleration voltages," Klie said.
The new instrument will mark the first significant upgrade to UIC's electron microscopy facility in over a decade.
Klie said it will offer students unparalleled training opportunities, providing unique skills for such in-demand job fields as green energy, electronics, petrochemicals and pharmaceuticals.
He adds that it will not only greatly benefit interdisciplinary research at UIC, but will complement Chicago-area electron microscopy facilities at Argonne National Laboratory and Northwestern University.
Installation of the aberration-corrected STEM will be completed within a year. It will be housed with two conventional transmission electron microscopes at the UIC Research Resources Center's Science and Engineering South facility.
UIC will contribute 30 percent to the cost of the NSF-funded project, made possible by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
Klie's co-principal investigators are Sivalingam Sivananthan, physics; Neil Sturchio, earth and environmental sciences; Luke Hanley, chemistry; Christos Takoudis, chemical and bioengineering; G. Ali Mansoori, bioengineering; Randall Meyer, chemical engineering; David He, Farzad Mashayek and Constantine Megaridis, mechanical and industrial engineering; Siddhartha Ghosh, electrical and computer engineering; Serap Erdal, environmental and occupational health sciences; and Alan Nicholls, electron microscopy, Research Resources Center.
Source: University of Illinois at Chicago