It was a problem that remained unsolved for 50 years: Aberrations made the images produced by electron microscopes "fuzzy." But in the mid 1990s, a team led by Ondrej Krivanek designed and built a practical aberration corrector to improve the resolution of electron microscopes, making it easier for researchers around the world to image and analyze matter – atom by atom.
Krivanek, an adjunct physics professor at Arizona State University who has a reputation on campus and off as a "brilliant designer of scientific instruments," was recently elected a fellow of the Royal Society, the U.K.'s national academy of science.
"Should Superman become interested in nano-objects, he would do well to supplement his X-ray vision with electron vision," Krivanek quipped when describing his research last month during the Royal Society's new fellows seminars, which were followed with a ceremony admitting this year's 44 distinguished scientists into the exclusive and world's oldest scientific academy.
Krivanek has dedicated some 30 years of his career to building better electron-optical instruments, improving them to the point where they can resolve and identify individual atoms.
Some of his early work focused on improving an existing electron microscope and using it to directly image, for the first time, the atomic structure of defects in semiconductors. He also designed numerous instruments for electron energy loss spectrometry (EELS), now used worldwide.
Krivanek's work on the aberration corrector led to the establishment (with co-founder Niklas Dellby) of the Washington state-based company Nion, of which he is president. The company develops advanced scanning-transmission electron microscopes and other electron-optical instruments.
The self-described hands-on researcher holds a doctorate in physics from Cambridge. He first worked at ASU in the early 1980s as an assistant professor in the LeRoy Eyring Center for Solid State Science and as associate director of the John Crowley Center for High Resolution Electron Microscopy.
From 1985-1995, Krivanek was an adjunct professor in ASU's Department of Physics in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. It's a position he again holds at ASU.
Krivanek is one of 1,300 fellows in the Royal Society, which has been at the forefront of inquiry and discovery since its foundation in 1660. New fellows were officially welcomed during an admission ceremony July 16, which included a signing of the society's Charter Book that contains the signatures of almost all the fellows in its 350 year history, all the way back to Robert Boyle, Isaac Newton and Robert Hooke.