McMaster University unveils world’s most advanced microscope

By | October 23, 2008

Titan_80-300_Cubed.jpgThe most advanced and powerful electron microscope on the planet—capable of unprecedented resolution—has been installed in the new Canadian Centre for Electron Microscopy at McMaster University. “We are the first university in the world with a microscope of such a high calibre,” says Gianluigi Botton, director of the Canadian Centre for Electron Microscopy, professor of Materials Science and Engineering, and the project’s leader. Titan“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,” says Botton—the new microscope is housed in a stable, specially designed facility able to withstand ultralow vibrations, low noise, and minute temperature fluctuations. Operation of the instrument will also be done from a separate room to ensure results of the highest quality.  – physorg

The university said the microscope would be used to help produce lighting that is more efficient and better solar cells, study proteins and drug-delivery materials to target cancers. – newlaunches

What a great new idea.  A super microscope to target cancers. The problem is, this design, like all other electron microscopes, is not able to view living cells. They can still only view killed mounted cells, not actual ongoing processes as was claimed by the Rife microscope which came out at about the same time as the first electron microscope. Still a great new tool… There is no such resolution as “remarkable”. What is the actual resolution? Why is it better than previous electron microscopes? How does it work? Ah, here are some answers:

Keep in mind that 1 nanometer (nm) is the width of three silicon atoms. How does that compare to a human ahir?

Blond hair is probably 15000 to 50000 nanometers in diameter, but black hair is likely to be between 50000 and 180000 nanometers. – nni

A Transmision Electron Microscope typically can resolve (see as two distinct objects) things which are more than 0.2 nm apart. In the year 2000, it was reported that a million-volt field emission transmission electron microscope (FE-TEM) had achieved resolutions of less than 0.05 nm. The Titan can resolve things only 0.136 nm apart based on this image:

The FEI Titan 80-300 is a built-to-order (like most expensive pieces of equipment) combination scanning electron microscope and transmission electron microscope that runs at 80keV/300keV respectively.


The illustration below showcases the capabilities of the Titan 80-300. The diagram on the extreme left is the theoretically-accepted structural configuration of the atoms that make up silicon – the semiconductor workhorse of the microelectronics industry. The next three images, from left to right, (taken by successive generations of high-resolution microscopes) show how each image approximates that configuration. In 1985, the microscopes weren’t powerful enough to reveal that there are two atoms next to each other in the structure. By 1998, some microscopes could barely illustrate the two atoms that are close to each other. But the third image in the sequence, taken in 2005 when the first Titan went into operation, reveals that the two adjacent atoms could be “resolved.” The third image indicates the kind of power of magnification and resolution that Carnegie Mellon researcher will have on tap. – cmu

It looks like better filtering rather than higher resolution.  It is amazing to be looking at individual atoms. There is a joke that says, “Perhaps Bigfoot IS blurry.” and that applies to imaging of atoms. As I understand it, when you get down to this level, you are looking at clouds of vibrating probability, not physical objects. Silicon atoms won’t get any sharper with more resolving power.

I spent several years using microscopes at a University and the strange new worlds you can see even at optical resolutions are endlessly amazing.

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