Imperial College London has unveiled one of the UK's most powerful microscopes, the Titan 80-300 S/TEM from FEI. It is the world's most powerful commercially-available scanning/transmission electron microscopes and one of the only instruments capable of viewing and analyzing individual atoms and the bonds which join them.
The Titan's unique capabilities enable researchers to "see" the detail of atoms' interfaces, structures, boundaries and defects in a wide range of materials. This will lead to a greater understanding of the chemical, biological, structural, electronic or magnetic properties in a number of materials and structures for the development and commercialization of new nano-enabled technologies.
The UK's first Titan allows the London Centre for Nanotechnology (LCN), an interdisciplinary collaboration between Imperial College London and University College London (UCL), to provide a world-class nano-characterisation facility for the first time. LCN can now offer scientists the opportunity to view and analyse material at a resolution smaller than half a nanometre.
The Titan will support a range of nanotechnology research projects in medical, pharmaceutical and materials science. These include understanding the processes which influence degenerative brain diseases, developing lightweight aircraft materials to reduce fuel consumption, and researching quantum dots as a way to increase the communication bandwidth available from fibre-optic cables. The multi-million-dollar microscope was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council following a joint submission from Imperial College, University College London and the London Centre for Nanotechnology.
The FEI Titan family currently offers world's most powerful, commercially- available transmission electron microscope (TEM). Since its release in 2005, the Titan has been widely acclaimed both for its ability to deliver ground- breaking results and for its superior product design. It has rapidly become the preferred S/TEM of leading researchers around the world, enabling discovery and exploration down to sub-Angstrom resolution in both TEM and S/TEM modes.
Examples of research enabled by the TITAN:
- Quantum computing -- The FEI TITAN will allow researchers to view and
study the impurity atoms responsible for the quantum bits, manipulated
in silicon-based quantum computers. These computers are devices which
will use the correlated movements of electrons to do complex
calculations in fields such as cryptography. The microscopy of the
TITAN will allow scientists to view individual impurities in their
native environment and thereby to understand and improve their function
in a quantum computer.
- Carbon nanotubes -- Scientists at Imperial will use the FEI TITAN to
understand how carbon nanotubes grow so that they can be developed for
specific applications. Carbon nanotubes have remarkable properties,
including the highest strength and thermal conductivity of any known
material. Many of these properties depend on the specific atomic
structure of different nanotubes. However, scientists have too little
control over the growth process. By understanding the relationship
between nanotube structure and metal catalysts used for synthesis, it
may be possible to find ways to produce nanotubes with specific
structures, designed for individual applications.
- Solid oxide fuel cells -- Imperial has been a hub of fuel cell research
for over 30 years. Solid oxide fuel cells could be used to fuel
anything from auxiliary power units for vehicles to combined heat and
power for the home. They use a variety of interfaces to catalyse the
production of energy from hydrocarbons or pure hydrogen. These
interfaces will deteriorate over time, affecting the cell's
performance. Imperial will use the TITAN to image and analyse these
interfaces over time and understand how and why they deteriorate. By
doing so it hopes to establish ways to slow the process and support
fuel cells' commercialisation.
- Degenerative brain diseases -- The level of iron in the brain tissue of
patients with degenerative diseases is significantly higher than in
healthy samples. The TITAN will allow research teams to investigate the
link between iron nanoparticles in the brain and diseases such as
Huntingdon's, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.
"Finally we have a true nano-analytical facility in a single instrument," commented Imperial's Dr. David McComb. "We can now see the atom, we can identify the atom and we can determine how it is coordinated to the atoms around it -- this will enable us to make major advances in establishing the relationship between structure and properties in systems such as biomedical materials, materials for renewable energy and electronic materials. This reinforces the position of the LCN and Imperial College London as a world- leading centre for nanomaterials research."
"This is a big investment in the science of the small," said Rob Fastenau, senior vice president and senior executive Europe of FEI Company. "The power of the Titan is its ability to combine world-leading imaging and spectral analysis at the atomic level. But its true value depends upon how it is applied to investigate and solve real scientific problems. Imperial's rich history of research excellence means it has a huge opportunity to drive new research forward with the acquisition of this highly advanced instrument.