New microscope gives clearest view of atoms

January 20, 2012

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(courtesy of Nanoscale Physic Group/Research Resources Center, UIC)
The new microscope provides a clear view of the nanoscale universe.

Scientists and engineers at the University of Illinois at Chicago can now train their sights on individual atoms. The school is dedicating a new microscope Friday, said to be the most powerful of its kind in the nation.

The machine, already in operation, can produce some of the clearest pictures yet of so-called nanoscale structures.

“You can clearly see that the images are significantly sharper,” said UIC physics professor Robert Klie, whose lab oversees the new scanning transmission electron microscope.

It’s rare to have this sort of microscope in an urban setting, because magnetic fields can distort its accuracy. Klie said he worried about the antennas on the Willis Tower and even the nearby El tracks.

“All of this caused me some distress, because it wasn’t clear that we can achieve those levels of quietness,” he said.

Klie and his team added shielding to the room and even replaced the metal chairs with all-wooden furniture to keep the facility pristine. The $3 million dollar microscope is expected to help researchers fine-tune high-tech materials, peer into cells and advance clean-energy technology. The university will rent out time on the instrument to outside users.