Best-Performing Microscopes in Europe Devoted to Studying Matter at the Atomic Scale

The Institut de physique et de chimie des matériaux de Strasbourg (IPCMS - CNRS/Université de Strasbourg) inaugurated its new transmission electron microscope on 9 January 2009. This instrument, which will be devoted to studying matter at the atomic scale, is one of the best-performing in Europe. The microscope and its installation cost 2.38 M€, half of which was funded by CNRS.

The new microscope joins the instrumental platform of IPCM, a laboratory which is devoted to the study of nanomaterials and nanosciences, at scales going from the single molecule and agregates of several dozen atoms to organized nanostructures on surfaces and mono- and bi-dimensional objects.

This microscope is part of the electron microscopy platform of the Pôle matériaux et nanosciences Alsace, directed by Marc Drillon, director of IPCMS, which brings together 14 CNRS laboratories, 3 engineering schools and 2 innovation and technology transfer centers.

It will be used for scientific projects in the fields of information and communication sciences and technologies, transportation, energy and biomedicine. It will be a particularly precious tool for the Alsacian competitiveness clusters « Véhicule du Futur » and « Innovations Thérapeutiques ». Relevant research topics include nanostructures for spin electronics, functional nanoparticles, polymers and hybrid materials, carbon materials, controlled porosity materials for catalysis and biomaterials.

The new microscope (JEOL 2100F) makes it possible to map the position of atoms within matter, to determine their nature and study in-situ the properties of nano-objects. Several functions enhance its performance:

  • aberration correctors, which improve the signal to noise ration in scanning mode (resolution of 0,11 nm), at a cost of 800,000 euros.
  • two rotating specimen holders, for three dimensional imaging.
  • electron energy loss spectroscopy, which quantitatively analyzes the chemical composition of the sample (resolution of 0,2 nm).

The total cost of the project includes the microscope (2.03 M€) as well as the installation of the locale and the instrument (0.35 M€). CNRS provided half of the funding, and the rest came from the Ministry of Higher Education and Research and from local governing bodies, via the State-Region contract, and the Foundation for Chemical Research.

Transmission electron microscopy

In a transmission electron microscope, a sufficienty thin specimen is placed under a beam of electrons which passes through it. The electrons interact with the specimen, then pass through a system of magnetic lenses before reaching a fluorescent screen which converts the electronic image into an optical image. The main advantage of this type of microscope is that it combines the very high resolution (in this case 0,11 nm) of X-ray diffraction, which provides data about the crystalline structure of the specimen, with X-ray spectroscopy, which provides data about the chemical nature of the specimen. Unlike light microscopes, the resolution is not limited by the wavelength of the electrons but rather by the aberrations due to magnetic lenses .

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