UT Introduces Cutting-Edge Electron Microscopes

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Imagine having the power to read the mint date on the head of a nickel on the moon. That’s the power of a new electron microscope at UT.

The university has two new cutting-edge microscopes worth a total of $3.5 million. One microscope has the power to see at the atomic level, while the other has the power to slice and cut at the nano scale.

Image taken using the Zeiss Auriga. Extracted from plant leaves, these protein complexes are involved with the conversion of solar energy by plants. Professor of Biochemistry and Cellular and Molecular Biology Barry Bruce and his students are exploring how plants harvest solar energy and how the process may be used in hybrid photovoltaic devices.

The microscopes are key to discovering and improving advanced materials used in areas like medicine, nuclear security, nanotechnology, and green power. They eventually will be housed in the Joint Institute for Advanced Materials (JIAM), currently under construction.

The university is hosting an open house to view the instruments on February 6 from 2:30 to 3:00 p.m. in Science and Engineering Research Facility (SERF) Room 307. All students, faculty, and staff from the University of Tennessee-system, University of Tennessee Medical Center, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory are welcome. A tour and lecture will follow. Parking is available for a fee at the Eleventh Street Parking Garage at the corner of Eleventh Street and Cumberland Avenue.

The microscopes are among the most powerful in the world and unique in that they can be controlled remotely. Complementary to capabilities at ORNL, the new microscopes will be used for fundamental research as well as a training bed for students. Personnel within academic institutions and industry, across the region and around the world, can access them for a modest fee.

“Understanding how and why materials behave the way they do and how new and improved materials can be made starts at the level of the atom and builds up from there,” said George Pharr, JIAM director. “The new instruments have the ability to probe, see and characterize materials from the atomic scale up so we can make breakthrough discoveries.”

The $2.5 million Zeiss Libra 200 Transmission Electron Microscope, with the magnification power of 1 to 10 million times, can resolve and image individual atoms. Already, the instrument has been used to produce three-dimensional images of molecules to improve drug delivery, develop a handheld neutron detector for control of nuclear materials, and study materials to build better fuels cells for hydrogen cars.

Image taken by Professor Gerd Duscher and his students showing the effect of helium implantation into a new lithographic mask material. The image in the background was taken with Zeiss Auriga and the two images in the foreground were taken with the Zeiss Libra. Materials Science and Engineering Professor Philip Rack is testing new methods to manipulate these materials for Intel, Inc.

The Libra is one of a few instruments in the world that can simultaneously examine specimens cooled to liquid nitrogen temperatures, fully image a structure three-dimensionally, and produce extremely high energy resolution in chemical analysis.

“These features make the instruments extremely versatile in advanced materials development and can be used to study polymeric, biological and crystalline materials, as well as composites or hybrids of these materials,” said Pharr.

The $1 million Zeiss Auriga Crossbeam microscope has the magnification power of 100,000, with the ability to machine—or cut through—features as small as a few nanometers. It can prepare samples, etch substrates and slice and image successively to get three-dimensional interior images of small objects. The Auriga has been used to slice through single biological cells to identify the internal cell structure and study the effects of diseases and pathogens. It holds promise in nanotechnology in creating nanoscale electrical and mechanical devices.

Gerd Duscher is lead scientist and John Dunlap is the facility manager for JIAM. The microscopes were funded by UT Knoxville and the UT system.

Established in 2005, the Joint Institute for Advanced Materials, which comprises a multidisciplinary team of scientists from UT and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, operates at the forefront of modern materials science in facilities across campus. The permanent site of JIAM, located at Cherokee farm, is slated to open in 2015.

C O N T A C T :

Whitney Heins (865-974-5460, wheins@utk.edu)

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