Seeing things a million-times thinner than a human hair

Powerful microscope to advance material research

A £3.7m microscope capable of seeing individual atoms and observing bonds between them has been unveiled.

The Nion Hermes Scanning Transmission Electron Microscope, only the third of its kind in the world and the first outside the USA, will allow engineers to see details in materials a million times thinner than a human hair.

Funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and to be based in the Daresbury laboratory near Warrington, the microscope will be used by researchers from several UK universities studying advanced materials, novel medical solutions or power generation.

“From developing new materials for space travel to creating a better, cheaper treatment for anaemia, this new super-powerful microscope lets UK scientists examine how materials behave at a level a million times smaller than a human hair,” said Minister for Universities, Science and Cities Greg Clark. “This exciting research will help lead to breakthroughs that will benefit not only our health but the environment too.”

Studying materials on atomic level and understanding the bonds between individual atoms is crucial for predicting behaviour of materials in the bulk.

“This EPSRC investment will give scientists access to a tool that can delve into the heart of materials. Discoveries made using this microscope will aid research and lead to innovations that benefit society and our economy,” Professor Philip Nelson, EPSRC’s Chief Executive commented. "The EPSRC SuperSTEM facility at Daresbury has already delivered us new knowledge and applications and this new equipment will continue that pedigree.”

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