Europe's most precise electron microscope is now in use in its own building at Linköping University in Sweden. After readjustments at the bequest of the LiU researchers, the Titan3 80-300 transmission electron microscope (TEM) now provides a resolution of less than 0.7 Å (about half the distance between two atoms in a silicon crystal).
"Thanks to the well-designed building's perfectly calculated environment the microscope performs even better than we had previously specified," says Rod Shipley, Sales Director at FEI Company, a spin-off from the Dutch electronics group Philips.
Since they first arrived on the market in 2005, 150 of the Titan ™ microscopes have been delivered; each one unique and custom made to satisfy the customer's special needs. In LiU's case, it is about scrutinising metals and new semiconductor materials all the way to the atomic level.
The central part of the microscope is a 3.7-meter high column. A high-energy electron beam is emitted from a "cannon" at the top. Further down, a series of electromagnetic lenses focus the beam on a small point where the electrons, accelerated to a speed close to light, meet the sample. Several "correctors" are situated in the column; a type of spectacle on the lenses that adjust the electrons' paths so that the image is reproduced without artefacts.
Dubbed "Arwen" after an elf from one of J.R.R. Tolkien's tales, the electron microscope is funded by a grant of SEK 46 million from the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation for LiU's materials scientists with Professor Lars Hultman at the forefront.
The circular "Angstrom building" with its sloping walls and roof, clad with titanium plates, was designed by Tham & Widegård Architects. The extremely sensitive instrument is very demanding in terms of stability, temperature, noise, air quality and electromagnetic fields. Design and construction has been a major challenge for all involved. The microscope is mounted on a plate anchored in the bedrock and isolated from the rest of the building so that external vibrations from the surrounding environment are eliminated.
The research acitivities at Professor Hultman's laboratories focus on the materials science and nanotechnology of thin films by vapor phase deposition, in particular ion-surface interactions, microstructure evolution, and properties of advanced functional materials.
"Our goal is to create future materials, but we will also study existing materials to see how we can make those even better: stronger and with less friction. With this new microscope we will be able to watch details all the way down to the bindings between atoms," says Hultman.
Professor Hultman is an ERC (European Research Council) Advanced Research Grant awardee. He is the director of major Swedish research centers of excellence featuring strong industry collaboration. He is the inventor of patents on nanostructured thin films and coating materials and has promoted spin-off companies.
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