A new electron microscope makes possible direct imaging and identification of individual atoms via x rays. Anticipated applications of the Austrian scanning transmission electron microscope (ASTEM) include analyzing material interfaces and impurities in semiconductor devices, and studying nanoplasmonics. With improved sample preparation methods the instrument could eventually be used to study biomaterials, says Ferdinand Hofer, director of the Austrian Center for Electron Microscopy and Nanoanalysis in Graz, where ASTEM was inaugurated on 22 June.

The electron microscope’s resolution of 70 pm (a picometer is 10–12 meters) is not the world’s best; that distinction goes to a 50-pm-resolution instrument at the National Center for Electron Microscopy in Berkeley, California. What ASTEM does offer, says NCEM director Ulrich Dahmen, is a “highly sensitive, large-angle x-ray detector that puts the instrument at the forefront of fine-probe x-ray spectroscopy.”

In an electron microscope, images are produced via elastic and inelastic interactions of electrons...

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