New microscope provides an important quality control tool for nanotechnology

A new type of electron microscope allows nanotech researchers to look at the nanostructures they produce and identify individual atoms and how they are bonded to other atoms. From a Cornell University press release “By color-coding atoms, new Cornell electron microscope promises big advance in materials analysis” (via AAAS EurekAlert, written by Bill Steele):

A new electron microscope recently installed in Cornell’s Duffield Hall is enabling scientists for the first time to form images that uniquely identify individual atoms in a crystal and see how those atoms bond to one another. And in living color.

“The current generation of electron microscopes can be thought of as expensive black and white cameras where different atoms appear as different shades of gray,” explained David Muller, Cornell associate professor of applied and engineering physics. “This microscope takes color pictures — where each colored atom represents a uniquely identified chemical species.”

…The microscope incorporates new aberration-correction technology designed by Krivanek that focuses a beam of electrons on a spot smaller than a single atom — more sharply and with greater intensity than previously possible. This allows information previously hidden in the background, or “noise,” to be seen. It also provides up to a hundredfold increase in imaging speed.

…It allows scientists to peer inside a material or a device and see how it is put together at the atomic scale where quantum effects dominate and everyday intuition fails. One of the most important applications of the new instrument will be to conduct what Silcox calls “materials pathology” to aid researchers in their development of new materials to use in electronic circuits, computer memories and other nanoscale devices. “We can look at structures people have built and tell them if they’ve built what they thought they did,” Silcox explained.

The research was published in Science (abstract)

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