"The current generation of electron microscopes can be thought of as expensive black-and-white cameras where different atoms appear as different shades of gray," said Cornell Associate Professor David Muller. "This microscope takes color pictures — where each colored atom represents a uniquely identified chemical species."
The instrument is a new type of scanning transmission electron microscope built by the Nion Co. of Kirkland, Wash., under an instrument-development award to Cornell from the National Science Foundation. Professor John Silcox and Ondrej Krivanek of Nion are the project’s co-principal investigators.
The microscope incorporates new aberration-correction technology that focuses a beam of electrons on a spot smaller than a single atom and does it more sharply and with greater intensity than previously possible. That, the scientists said, allows information previously hidden in the background to be seen. It also provides up to a hundredfold increase in imaging speed.
The capabilities of the new instrument are described in the journal Science.