Washington, Jan 25 : Scientists have created a new ultra-powerful microscope, which will enable them to study atoms within materials more closer than ever before.
Known as SuperSTEM 2 (Scanning Transmission Electron Microscope), this microscope has been created by a collaboration of scientists from the universities of Liverpool, Glasgow and Leeds and the Daresbury Laboratory.
What the SuperSTEM 2 does is that it can show an atom at 20 million times its size. At 20 million times its size, an atom would measure approximately 5 mm across.
However, it is not just the scale of magnification that makes SuperSTEM 2 unique - it is also the sharpness of the image, its capability to provide elemental and chemical data about atoms and its stability.
The microscope works by scanning a beam that has been focussed down to the size of an atom, across a sample, providing chemical information on the sample at the same time.
Although scanning transmission electron microscopy has been used as a technique for some years, detailed imaging of atoms was previously impossible due to defects that all lenses suffer from.
The ultra-powerful microscope is a great advance on traditional techniques as it has an inbuilt computer-controlled system corrects these defects, much in the same way that glasses correct the defects in people's eyes.
According to Dr Andrew Bleloch, Technical Director of SuperSTEM 2 at the Daresbury Laboratory, the behaviour of atoms can change, depending on the size of the particle they are in.
"SuperSTEM 2 means that researchers can now study how these atoms behave in their 'native' form and how they might perform as components of different products that come into contact with human beings," he said.
The SuperSTEM 2 is now being applied to a whole raft of projects, including medical research to achieve a deeper understanding of liver disease.
It is also being used in the future development of mountain bike tyres and the next generation of computer chips in the quest to make smaller, yet more powerful, computers and mobile phones.