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Using the Atmosphere to Enable Catalyst Material Research

Atmosphere from Protochips is a powerful new tool enabling analysis of catalyst samples in gas environments. It is the first commercial product to control high pressure gas experiments inside transmission electron microscopes (TEM).

In this interview, Ben Jacobs, Product Manager from Protochips talks to AZoNano about Atmosphere TEM Environmental Gas Cell which was designed to simplify in situ gase cell experiments.

Please tell us about Protochips product the Atmosphere?

Atmosphere was the first commercial product to enable fully software controlled high pressure gas experiments inside the transmission electron microscope (TEM).

It takes advantage of the high resolution and analytical capabilities of the TEM, including element identification, to image samples in their real world, active state at the atomic scale.

What are the main benefits and features of the Atmosphere?

Atmosphere was designed to simplify in situ gas cell experiments so researchers can obtain meaningful results faster. This simplicity is found in the holder design, which can be loaded in minutes, and a fully software controlled and automated gas handling system.

The software controls the temperature, gas flow, logs all data and can automatically synchronize with data generated by the TEM with data generated with Atmosphere.

The holder uses MEMS devices that incorporate a unique ceramic heating support membrane, which is highly inert and thermally stable. This ensures the sample does not react with the support at temperatures reaching 1000 °C, and atomic scale resolution is maintained.

With options to add gas mixing and residual gas analysis mass spectrometry, Atmosphere is a powerfully new way to analyse catalyst samples in gas environments.

Was there a demand in the market for a product that helps with catalyst materials research? Why?

For many decades catalyst researchers used “bulk” techniques such as x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS), x-ray diffraction (XRD) and other light based instruments to analyse samples. They also used standard TEM and SEM to image samples.

The data was always open to interpretation, and researchers had to infer based on spectra and static TEM images. With Atmosphere researchers can see their samples in real world conditions.

The ability to see samples unlocks a new window into understanding behaviour.

How does Protochips Atmosphere compare to other models on the market?

Atmosphere incorporates several unique elements that enable researchers to get better results faster. The patented holder design uses a unique gasket style o-ring, making holder loading fast, easy and reliable, and enables energy dispersive x-ray spectroscopy (EDS) analysis on any TEM, which is unique to Atmosphere.

The heating membrane is composed of silicon carbide, which is highly inert and thermally stable, is a patented Protochips design. These features make Atmosphere the simplest, most reliable and powerful gas cell system on the market.

What applications/industries will benefit from the Atmosphere? How will researchers see the benefits?

Heterogeneous catalysis is the primary market for Atmosphere. The ability to see a working catalyst is very appealing to people in this research area.

Other key markets for Atmosphere include semiconductor, nanostructure, nucleation and growth, and corrosion. Both areas involve gas phase reactions with important chemical reactions occurring at the nano and atomic scale

How can Protochips Atmosphere improve research? Are there any case studies that you can tell us about?

Atmosphere allows researchers to visualize catalyst systems on the nanoscale. A great case study involved the synthesis of a new, highly efficient catalyst for methane combustion.

The group who synthesized the catalyst did not have an explanation as to why the catalyst behaved the way it did.

A second group used Atmosphere to study this catalyst and by imaging it in the TEM, and found that the unique synthesis method used by the group, which incorporated the use of silicon, was the reason for high activity.

After performing control experiments, imaging samples with and without silicon, they were able to provide the explanation.

Is in situ microscopy a cost effective alternative to traditional catalysis analytical techniques?

We view in situ electron microscopy as a compelentary technique to traditional analysis tools like X-ray diffraction, computational modelling, and spectroscopic techniques.

In many cases, these tools and methods are able to clearly illuminate some specific chemical, structural, crystallographic, or morphological changes during the catalysis reactions, but these precise techniques don’t provide the big picture of how the catalyst is performing.

That’s where Atmosphere comes in – to complement these other analytical techniques to more accurately study these nanoscale materials.

What’s in-store for the future of the Atmosphere and Protochips?

We are always looking to improve the usability of our products, and to better integrate our systems with the electron microscope. In situ gas cell for the TEM is also a relatively new product to the market, but we’ve got a lot of exciting developments underway!

Where can our readers go to find out more?

We are constantly adding new and updated content to our website,, where your readers can find application notes, webinars, sample images and videos, and more detailed information about Atmosphere.

We also maintain an interactive bibliography on our website, featuring published research articles from our many Atmosphere users around the world.

If anyone is hungry for more, they can always get in touch with us online or come visit us at the many conferences, workshops, and tradeshows Protochips attends every year.

About Ben Jacobs

Dr. Benjamin Jacobs is a product manager at Protochips, and has been with the company since 2010. When he is not attending conferences, or visiting customers, he is looking at ways to improve Protochips products. Prior to joining Protochips, Dr. Jacobs was a postdoc at Sandia National Laboratory in Livermore, CA, looking at hydrogen storage materials.Ben Jacobs

He did his PhD at Michigan State University, where he held a NASA Graduate Student Researcher Fellowship, studying semiconductor and carbon nanostructures.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent the views of Limited (T/A) AZoNetwork, the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and Conditions of use of this website.


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