The World’s Best Electron Microscope

New Era in Microscopy in Israel: Technion Purchases the World’s Best Electron Microscope

The Themis microscope will enable characterization of the structure and chemical composition of materials at sub-nanometer resolution

The Technion recently purchased a Themis, an innovative and state of the art electron microscope, one of the most advanced in the world and the best of its kind in Israel. Themis is a transmission electron microscope (TEM) capable of providing an image of individual atoms and, based on this image, provide information about the material’s structure and properties. The microscope is about 4 meters high, and enables real-time tracking of dynamic processes occurring in the material, for example as a result of heating or cooling. The new microscope was purchased with the assistance of the Russell Berrie Nanotechnology Institute (RBNI) at the Technion.

Themis (Titan Cubed Themis G2 300) is manufactured by the American company FEI (Thermo Fisher Scientific). Its installation at Technion took about a week, and preparations for its operation will be completed by company representatives and Technion’s Electron Microscopy Center staff within a few weeks. It is installed in a special room that is insulated from its surroundings to prevent the influence of acoustic noise, mechanical vibrations, and electromagnetic field interference on experiments. It is fixed to a surface anchored to a rock deep in the ground, stabilized by a floating floor that insulates it from various vibrations in the environment, and controlled from an adjacent dedicated control room.

The Themis replaces the previous microscope, the Titan (FEI Titan 80-300 KeV S/TEM), which was purchased by the Technion in 2006 and was considered the world’s leading electron microscope at the time. Dr. Yaron Kauffman, head of the Electron Microscopy Center at the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, said, “We call it a microscope, but it is actually a complete laboratory that enables us to perform diverse experiments under changing conditions, monitor processes in materials, and characterize materials in ways that were previously unavailable to us. This is a significant tool for atomic-level characterization of diverse materials such as metals; semiconductors and polymers; and ceramic, organic, hybrid, and biological materials.”

“Themis will lead the microscopy revolution at the nano and quantum scale, and marks the beginning of a new era in microscopy in Israel,” said Prof. Wayne Kaplan, Technion’s Executive Vice President for Research. “The new microscope will enable us to see the bonds between atoms, and important fundamental chemical processes with nanometer resolution.”

Prof. Kaplan added, “In order to remain at the forefront of global science we must constantly update the research infrastructure at the Technion. Unfortunately, despite the quantum leap in research in Israel thanks to the new microscope, it was purchased by the Technion without financial assistance from the Planning and Budgeting Committee of the Council for Higher Education (or any other government agency). It is regrettable that the government decision-makers who congratulate us on our scientific achievements and Nobel Prizes do not understand that the State of Israel will not be able to remain a global science and technology power without massive investment in research infrastructures.”

How does it work?

The principle of the operation of the electron microscope is similar to that of the optical microscope, which the public is more familiar with; but instead of using glass lenses to illuminate the sample with a focused light beam (photons), the electron microscope uses electromagnetic lenses (coils) to project a focused electron beam onto the sample.
The main advantage of the electron microscope is its high-resolution capability. Compared with the optical microscope, which is limited to a resolution of about 200 nanometers, the electron microscope is capable of achieving a resolution below 1 Ångstrom (one tenth of a nanometer). The reason for the difference is that the wavelength of the electron is significantly shorter than the wavelength of light.

In TEM, the electrons penetrate the sample, are emitted on the other side, and monitored by various sensors. These sensors enable us to understand the structure of the material (arrangement of atoms), its chemical composition (type of atoms), and the types of chemical bonds inside it.

Like its predecessor, Themis will operate at the Electron Microscopy Center at Technion’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering. The Center is used by scientists both from the Technion and from outside academic and industrial entities in the following fields: TEM, scanning electron microscopy (SEM), application of analytical methods for chemical analysis, and computerized optical microscopy. The Center also prepares microscope samples using diamond saws, diamond polishing systems, ultrasonic cutting machines, electrochemical systems, gold and carbon coaters, and more.

Themis microscope at the completion of installation

Control room – photos from the control room of the Themis microscope

Dr. Yaron Kaufman, head of the Electron Microscopy Center at Technion's Department of Materials Science and Engineering, beside the new microscope

Dr. Yaron Kaufman, head of the Electron Microscopy Center at Technion’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering, beside the new microscope