Trinity College Dublin has installed a €5.7m microscope that is capable of seeing objects a million times smaller than a human hair or viewing a single atom.
With the support of Science Foundation Ireland, the university has installed the microscope at the AMBER materials science centre at the CRANN Institute.
One of the world’s top 10, and effectively the most powerful microscope on the island of Ireland, the NION UltraSTEM 200 can analyse single atoms and objects a million times smaller than a human hair using scanning transmission electron microscopy (STEM), and will help scientists push boundaries even further in fields such as materials science, ICT, energy storage, pharmaceuticals, medical devices and diagnostics.
‘We anticipate scientists to travel from all over Europe to use it, and some have started already’
– VALERIA NICOLASI, AMBER
It is housed in the Advanced Microscopy Laboratory (AML) located in the Trinity Technology and Enterprise Campus.
How the NION UltraSTEM microscope works
The microscope is designed for stability (it will move no more than half a millimetre in 100 years, or 2000 times slower than continental drift) and has been installed in a very special room that will only allow for 0.1°C/hr temperature fluctuation.
The way the NION UltraSTEM microscope works is by scanning a beam that has been focused down to the size of an atom, across a sample, providing chemical information on the sample at the same time. Although scanning transmission electron microscopy has been used as a technique for some years, detailed imaging of atoms was previously impossible due to defects affecting all lenses.
From developing 2D materials for energy storage, to creating new materials to capture carbon dioxide to reduce greenhouse emissions and supporting the understanding of cells for more effective cancer treatment, the microscope will enable Irish scientists to examine atoms within materials in a way that has never been possible in Ireland.
“The development of new sophisticated materials requires a deep understanding of their structure and properties,” explained Professor Valeria Nicolosi, principal investigator at AMBER.
“This new super-powerful microscope lets Irish scientists examine how materials behave at a level a million times smaller than a human hair. AMBER’s new instrument will enable industry and academic users to accelerate their innovations.
“This new pioneering equipment will allow us to provide opportunities for new kinds of experiments. We anticipate scientists to travel from all over Europe to use it, and some have started already,” Nicolosi said.