The event will be open to both researchers and members of the public who want to learn more about the new microscope and the opportunities it will create. Researchers from near and far will come to get acquainted with the advanced equipment and make new connections. Special invitees include members of a European network for electron microscopy, in which Chalmers is involved. There are also several leading researchers in the field from Europe and the rest of the world.
But first, let us rewind a little – to a snowy day in February 2018, when a truck, loaded with 100 boxes, arrived at Chalmers campus Johanneberg. Eager researchers watched as the precious, long-awaited packages were loosened. There were worries that the lift might not even be able to cope with the weight, but it managed. Almost a year of assembly, installation and adjustment followed, and now the microscope, which weighs five tonnes, is in place at Chalmers Material Analysis Laboratory (CMAL). It sits in a disturbance-protected room with adapted temperature and air conditions and is available to researchers in both the academy and industry.
“It is great that we can now start all the experiments we have planned – we have a long wish list. When we can study and control different materials, right down to the atomic level, a whole universe of possibilities opens. For example, we can produce more healthy foods, smarter solar cells and more environmentally-friendly textiles and paper,” says Physics Professor Eva Olsson, who is responsible for the microscope project at Chalmers.
She has worked hard for Chalmers to be able to buy a total of three advanced electron microscopes that open up new possibilities in soft microscopy. What is now being inaugurated is a transmission electron microscope (TEM) made in Japan by JEOL, by far the standout of the three. The total investment is around 66 million Swedish kronor, of which the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation has contributed half.
What is unique about the new, large TEM is its very high spatial and energy resolution. It means it is possible to see how individual atoms are arranged in a material. Through analysis of the different signals coming from the studied materials, it is possible to understand how the arrangement of atoms is correlated to the properties of the material.
Although the new microscope has not been formally opened yet, it has already been put to use in certain ways. Professor of physics Aleksandar Matic, and researcher Carmen Cavallo, published an article on how they managed to produce a cathode material for lithium sulphur batteries, based on graphene, allowing for higher energy content and longer lifespan. They investigated the structure of the cathode material using the new microscope. Meanwhile, Eva Olsson's research group has also developed the knowledge about how to make solar cell nanowires more efficient. And with the help of one of the new microscopes, researchers also managed to show that it is possible to melt gold at room temperature.
In the future, the microscope will pave the way for new results about a wide spectrum of materials ranging from food, materials for health and energy to atomically-thin materials, catalysts and quantum computers. The microscope is beneficial for many different research groups at Chalmers, and externally.
“When we can optimise different materials so that they behave exactly as we want them to, in as small a size as possible, we can make important progress. This is true for both material science and technology development. In this work we can also contribute to better health and a sustainable environment,” says Eva Olsson.
Eva Olsson will lead the opening ceremony, but she can also reveal that even Chalmers' founder, William Chalmers, seems to have gained a new lease of life thanks to the excitement of the new microscope. It might just be the case that he too will be on hand to help moderate the ceremony, which will include exciting lectures, insight into the world of the microscope and many opportunities for networking and meeting future contacts.
Text: Mia Halleröd Palmgren and Joshua Worth
More about electron microscopy and soft microscopy
Electron microscopy is a collective term for various types of microscopy using electrons instead of electromagnetic radiation to produce images of very small objects. With the help of this technique, one can pass the resolution of visible light, which makes it possible to study individual atoms.
With soft microscopy, the electrons that examine the material have lower energy than in an ordinary electron microscope. It makes it possible to explore delicate organic materials such as foods, textiles or tissues, right down to the atomic level, without the material losing its structure.
There are different types of electron microscopes, such as transmission electron microscopes (TEM), scanning transmission electron microscopes (STEM), scanning electron microscopes (SEM) and combined Focused Ion Beam and SEM (FIB-SEM).