by John Hendon
A NEW facility that will allow scientists to see the properties of materials more clearly, at the atomic level, has been unveiled at the STFC Daresbury Laboratory, near Warrington, to an audience of leading scientists, industrialists and politicians.
The EPSRC National Facility for Aberration-Corrected Scanning Transmission Electron Microscopy opens up easier access to the use of electron microscopes, which are tuned to take account of lens distortions, to scientific researchers from universities in the UK and the rest of the world.
The new facility builds on the work already carried out at Daresbury which has, for example, enabled researchers to examine new materials including single atom thick structures like graphene, learn how nanotechnology interacts with biological matter and to see what causes diamonds to have distinctive colours.
Electron microscopes, like their optical predecessors, suffer from image distortion which requires powerful computers and a series of magnets to rebalance the electron probe used to examine materials. This is known as aberration-correction.
In 2003 the pioneering SuperSTEM facility opened the frontiers of electron microscopy to the scientific community by becoming the first user centre in the world to provide access to these types of corrected microscopes.
Now, after a competitive tendering process, EPSRC has awarded the SuperSTEM Consortium the status of National Facility for Aberration-Corrected STEM which will build on EPSRC's previous investment in this resource.
Super STEM chairman Professor Rik Brydson said: "Electron microscopy has undergone a revolution in recent years with leaps in the performance of electron optical elements, sources and detectors.
"While instruments are becoming ever more powerful their complexity is also multiplied. This trend places renewed emphasis on national facilities that gather in one place state-of-the-art instrumentation and world-leading experts in the field. This new facility will do just that and is already bringing in results that open up new opportunities in science. We are most grateful to EPSRC for its support for our work."
Professor Colin Whitehouse of STFC and a member of the Daresbury Science and Innovation Campus Joint Venture Board said: "As a partner in both national science and innovation campuses, STFC is delighted that the EPSRC National Facility for Aberration-Corrected Scanning Transmission Electron Microscopy will be located at Daresbury.
"This superb facility will be an important asset to both the academic and industrial communities, and make the Daresbury Science and Innovation Campus an even more attractive place to develop important new scientific ideas and products."