Finally, a microscope that can see an atom


Toronto : The planet’s most advanced and powerful electron microscope, capable of looking at atoms, the tiniest object in the universe, has been installed at the new Canadian Centre for Electron Microscopy at McMaster University.

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“We are the first university in the world with a microscope of such a high calibre,” said Gianluigi Botton, director of the Centre, professor of materials science and engineering and project leader.

“The resolution of the Titan 80-300 Cubed microscope is remarkable, the equivalent of the Hubble Telescope looking at the atomic level instead of at stars and galaxies. With this microscope we can now easily identify atoms, measure their chemical state and even probe the electrons that bind them together.”

Because we are at the very limits of what physics allows us to see, “even breathing close to a regular microscope could affect the quality of the results”, said Botton. The new microscope is housed in a stable, specially designed facility able to withstand ultralow vibrations, low noise, and minute temperature fluctuations.

Built in the Netherlands by the FEI Company at a cost of $15 million, the Titan cluster will examine at the nano level hundreds of everyday products in order to understand, manipulate and improve their efficiency, said John Preston, director of McMaster’s Brockhouse Institute for Materials Research, according to a McMaster press release.

The microscope will be used to help produce more efficient lighting and better solar cells, study proteins and drug-delivery materials to target cancers.

It will assess atmospheric particulates, and help create lighter and stronger automotive materials, more effective cosmetics, and higher density memory storage for faster electronic and telecommunication devices.