Two Nobel laureates launched what has been dubbed “Australia’s most advanced electron microscope” at the University of Sydney’s Nanoscience Hub this week. The 4.5 m tall Thermo Fisher Themis-Z transmission electron microscope is so powerful it can capture objects that are mere picometres in size or one trillionth of a meter.

It can see down to levels of about 0.06 nanometers, which is about half the size of a hydrogen atom,” said New South Wales Chief Scientist and Engineer Professor Hugh Durrant-Whyte at the launch event.

But being able to peer into the spaces between atoms does more than satisfy our curiosities about the universe at its smallest scale. Being able to distinguish individual atoms permits researchers to manipulate them.

Structure Of Atoms

They can now properly determine the position of atoms within structures and even the forces between them. It’s at that level that we engineer the nanoparticles that can deliver drugs to specific locations in people’s bodies, and it’s at that level that we develop the structures that are required for new photovoltaics or quantum computers.

Precision design

The design of the microscope is what allows it to capture such a high resolution, the highest spatial and spectral resolution of any microscope in Australia. It’s a transmission electron microscope that’s monochromatic and double-corrected.

Electrons

The correction minimizes the spread in the energy of these electrons, ensuring the rays are directed at the same point. That creates the perfect beam of electrons possible and gives us a phenomenal resolution.

Ultimate Nanotechnology Tool

To keep the microscope functioning at peak performance, the laboratory housing it has been constructed to create a stable environment. The device sits on a floating concrete slab that stands independent of the rest of the building to minimize vibrations, and it is located as far from the building’s elevators as possible to minimize magnetic interference.

Microscopy

The air and acoustics of the laboratory are extremely stable as well. The microscope is openly available to all Australian researchers, Cairney said, whether they came from a university or industry. And there are already projects with ideas for how it can be put to use.

The team at the ARC Research Hub for Advanced Manufacturing of Medical Devices are going to use it to develop coatings they can put onto stents, which will allow surgeons to correctly insert them. Others are going to use it for transformational additive manufacturing research for the design of new light alloys for battery materials and other energy technologies.

Investment in such a wonderful laboratory is important not only to solve your problem, but to train the experts on these machines, and these experts can go and collaborate around the world and bring new knowledge.