EPSRC unveils world-leading SuperSTEM microscope that sees single atoms

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A new super powerful electron microscope that can pinpoint the position of single atoms, and will help scientists push boundaries even further, in fields such as advanced materials, healthcare and power generation, will be unveiled today, Thursday 19 February, by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

The £3.7 million Nion Hermes Scanning Transmission Electron Microscope, one of only three in the world, will be sited at the EPSRC SuperSTEM facility at the Daresbury laboratory complex near Warrington, which is part of the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC).

The microscope not only allows imaging of unprecedented resolution of objects a million times smaller than a human hair, but also analysis of materials. This means that researchers will not only be able to clearly identify the atoms, but observe the strength of the bonds between them. This will improve understanding of their electronic properties when in bulk and how they may perform when used.

Minister for Universities, Science and Cities, Greg Clark, said: The UK is a world leader in the development and application of STEM (Scanning Transmission Electron Microscope) techniques, and this new super-powerful microscope will ensure we remain world-class.

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. This exciting research will help lead to breakthroughs that will benefit not only our health but the environment too.

Professor Philip Nelson, EPSRC's Chief Executive said: This EPSRC investment in state-of-the-art equipment is an investment in UK science and engineering. It 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. The EPSRC SuperSTEM facility at Daresbury has already delivered us new knowledge and applications and this new equipment will continue that pedigree.

Notes for editors

SuperSTEM Consortium

SuperSTEM is supported by a network of collaborating Universities: Leeds, Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester and Oxford and a Steering Committee. These provide extensive supporting expertise in the application of analytical electron microscopy to a broad variety of samples ranging from advanced materials to geological and even biological materials. The consortium also provides access to complementary electron microscopy and sample preparation techniques for the benefit of user project.

Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

EPSRC is the UK's main agency for funding research in engineering and physical sciences. EPSRC invests around £800 million a year in research and postgraduate training, to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change. The areas covered range from information technology to structural engineering, and mathematics to materials science. This research forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone's health, lifestyle and culture. EPSRC works alongside other Research Councils with responsibility for other areas of research. The Research Councils work collectively on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK.

Reference: PN 07-15