A new microscope invented at Michigan State University allows scientists to zoom in on the movements of atoms and molecules.
Electron microscopes allow scientists to see the structure of microorganisms, cells, metals, crystals and other tiny structures that weren't visible with light microscopes. But while these images have allowed scientists to make great discoveries, the relationship between structure and function could only be estimated because of static images. In the 1990s, researchers added a fourth dimension time by using a laser to capture images of gaseous molecules as they were reacting.
Now, Chong-Yu Ruan, MSU associate professor of physics and astronomy, has brought these "molecular movies" down to the nanoscale level, where the properties of materials begin to change. The work has applications in nanoelectronic technologies and in clean-energy industries.
Ruan's team is one of the few in the world actively developing electron-based imaging technology on the femtosecond timescale. One femtosecond is one-millionth of a billionth of a second a fundamental timescale that atoms take to perform specific tasks, such as mediating the traffic of electrical charges or participating in the chemical reactions.
"Implementing such a technology within an electron microscope setup allows one to examine crucial functions in nanoscale devices," Ruan said. "The goal is to explore the limits where specific physical, chemical and biological transformations can occur."
Ruan and his collaborators filed a patent on the device, and he also envisions the essential components of the device being modular so they can be add-ons to an existing electron microscope, allowing scientists to extend the capabilities of these devices without building the whole device.
"An electron microscope costs between $1 million and $10 million," Ruan said. "I expect our device to cost as little as $500,000. It would allow electron micro
|Contact: Layne Cameron|
Michigan State University