Viewing Atoms With Electrons

When we were in school, they always told us we can’t see atoms. If you have an electron microscope, then they were wrong. [AlphaPhoenix] has access to a scanning tunneling transmission electron microscope and he shows us some atoms in a very thin slice of a crystal.

Of course, you aren’t directly imaging the atoms. You are looking at the shadows of the atoms, but still. If you’ve never worked with a SEM or STEM before, there are plenty of little details that are interesting like the sample holders and the vacuum system.

One thing that struck us is that compared to the SEMs we used to use is that computers have, indeed, changed everything. In the 1980s our SEMs looked like someone’s idea of a 25th-century space shuttle with knobs, dials, meters, levers, and even pedals. Now, it looks like a computer with a bunch of monitors.

Even better than the images, we really enjoyed the explanation and macro-scale demonstration of how the microscope works. If you haven’t worked with this technology before, it is amazing and he didn’t even cover things like energy dispersive spectroscopy and other useful techniques.

It isn’t easy building your own electron microscope, but some people do try. And try. You might be better off trying to snag one surplus.

9 thoughts on “Viewing Atoms With Electrons

  1. Please correct: This is not measured by a “scanning tunneling electron microscope” but a scanning *transmission* electron microscope!

    STM (Scanning tunneling microscopy) is a completely different technique!

  2. The problem with owning an electron microscope is that they are fun to have a look at things once in a while, but that mostly they would be an expensive dust-gathering device. At least, in my situation. ;)

    They are extremely cool, and I wish I had one. But even 2nd hand they are still more expensive than my car. :)

  3. This is also possible with AFM (atomic force microscopy). And I wonder if a DIY AFM might actually more doable (assuming you can source the wafers for the tip).

    1. There was a guy a couple of years ago who did an AFM on a build it from trash budget. The imaging was using a peizo electric pad, and I think he made the single atom point by pulling a tungsten rod until it elongated then snapped. I think he glued the imaging item to the peizo…. I forget a lot of the details but he got it to work! I believe it was a hackaday article covering it

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