AMBER, the Science Foundation Ireland funded materials science centre based at the CRANN Institute, Trinity College, has today launched Ireland’s most powerful microscope the NION UltraSTEM 200. This new world class tool can analyse single atoms and objects a million times smaller than a human hair using scanning transmission electron microscopy (STEM), and will help scientists push boundaries even further, in fields such as materials science, ICT, energy storage, pharmaceuticals, medical devices and diagnostics. The microscope was officially unveiled by Minister for Skills, Research and Innovation Damien English T.D. who was joined by AMBER’s industry partners including Intel, Bell Labs and Eblana Photonics. Key note speakers at the launch event included Dr Ondrej Krivanek, President of NION, Dr Rhonda Stroud, Head of the Nanoscale Materials Section at the Naval Research Lab and Professor Barry Carter, University of Connecticut.

The €5.7 million NION UltraSTEM 200 microscope funded by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) will be one of the top 10 microscopes in the world. It is housed in the Advanced Microscopy Laboratory (AML) located in the Trinity Technology and Enterprise Campus. The NION UltraSTEM microscope will give researchers the access to a tool that can investigate the very heart of materials, and discoveries using this microscope will help research and lead to innovations that benefit society. From developing 2D materials for energy storage, to creating new materials to capture carbon dioxide to reduce greenhouse emissions and supporting the understanding of cells for more effective cancer treatment, this new state of the art equipment enables Irish scientists to examine atoms within materials in a way that has never been possible in Ireland.

Speaking at the event, Damien English T.D., Minister for Skills, Research and Innovation said, “The impact of leading research infrastructure, such as the NION microscope, in the area of product manufacturing and its contribution to the national economy, cannot be underestimated. The availability of this powerful tool is critical to research carried out within AMBER’S industry partner companies where atomic precision during manufacturing is a crucial requirement. The NION will be a significant advancement in the public-private sector research relationships in Ireland.”

Professor Valeria Nicolosi, Principal Investigator at AMBER, said: “The development of new sophisticated materials requires a deep understanding of their structure and properties. This new super powerful microscope lets Irish scientists examine how materials behave at a level a million times smaller than a human hair. AMBER’s new instrument will enable industry and academic users to accelerate their innovations. This new pioneering equipment will allow us to provide opportunities for new kinds of experiments. We anticipate scientists to travel from all over Europe to use it, and some have started already”

Dr Patrick Prendergast, Provost of Trinity College Dublin, said: “This is a very significant investment in Irish scientific research. We house state of the art equipment in our Advanced Microscopy Laboratory and the addition of the NION UltraSTEM will further facilitate world leading research and expertise. The launch today of the new powerful microscope heralds a new era of research in a wide range of materials and this ensures that Ireland remains at the forefront of world-class research which ultimately will benefit society at large. I would like to congratulate Professor Nicolosi and her team on securing this facility for Trinity and Irish science.”

The microscope is designed for stability (it will move no more than half a millimeter in 100 years, or 2000 times slower than continental drift) and has been installed in a very special room that will only allow for 0.1°C/hr fluctuation. The way the NION UltraSTEM microscope works is by scanning a beam that has been focused 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 affecting all lenses. This microscope surpasses the abilities of traditional STEMs through its inbuilt computer-controlled system that corrects these defects, much in the same way that glasses correct for vision problems.

Prof. Mark Ferguson, Director General Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland, added ‘Leading research infrastructure, such as the NION microscope further increases Ireland’s capacity to accomplish high quality, high impact and innovative research while supporting and developing research links with industry in Ireland and internationally. This investment by Science Foundation Ireland has the potential to propel research projects and provides Irish Researchers with the tools to be world leading.’

Professor Michael Morris, Director AMBER, said: “The arrival of NION, one of only 10 in the world is a significant game changer for scientific research in Ireland and beyond. This new tool is the equivalent of a Formula 1 car amongst other aberration-corrected microscopes. Ultimately the NION allows for the precision at which some new materials can be produced requiring sensitivities beyond the reach of most laboratories. This will give researchers access to a tool that can explore and investigate materials in a way not done before in Ireland, discoveries made using the NION will lead to innovations that will have real impact for our society.”

Leonard Hobbs, Director Global Public Affairs at Intel Ireland said, “Intel is working with AMBER in the field of materials science, in developing innovative methods and exploring exciting properties of new materials as we collaborate in developing new technology options. NION, with its world leading capabilities, will help facilitate the delivery of breakthrough research and further technology innovation.”

The Advanced Microscopy Laboratory (AML) houses state of the art equipment, designed to meet the needs for advanced manufacturing and materials research, whether for academic or material purposes. The AML with the addition of the NION UltraSTEM now contains a suite of instruments that covers the entire resolution range from transmission electron microscopy to scanning electron and ion beam microscopes for surface imaging and analysis. The AML is open to all academic and industrial users, both nationally and internationally.

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