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LiU’s world-class microscope

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Europe's most precise electron microscope is now in use at Linköping University. Diligently installed in the custom-built Ångströmhuset, a building that boldly stands out among the offices and classrooms on Campus Valla. Now the world's leading researchers are lining up to gain new insights into the innermost secrets of matter.

“Thanks to the well-designed building’s perfectly calculated environment the microscope performs even better than we had previously specified”, says Rod Shipley, Sales Director at FEI Company, a spin-off from the Dutch electronics group Philips.

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Linköping University has disbursed close to SEK 50 million, for the Titan3 80-300 transmission electron microscope (TEM). At the bequest of the LiU researchers, readjustments to the design now provide a microscope with a resolution of less than 0.7 Å (about half the distance between two atoms in a silicon crystal). The instrument weighs 2.5 tons and was transported from Eindhoven in 17 packages. The microscope is jam-packed with the latest technology.

“The installation took seven weeks which was the fastest we have ever achieved”, says Shipley, who participated in the process from start to finish.

Since they first arrived on the market in 2005, 150 of the Titan ™ Microscopes have been delivered; each one unique and custom made to satisfy the customer’s special needs. In LiU’s case, it is about scrutinising metals and new semiconductor materials all the way to the atomic level. This requires completely different adaptations than, say, for biological purposes.

The central part of the microscope is a 3.7-meter high column. A high-energy electron beam is emitted from a "cannon" at the top. Further down, a series of electromagnetic lenses focus the beam on a small point where the electrons (accelerated to a speed close to light) meet the sample. Several “correctors” are situated in the column; a type of spectacle on the lenses that adjust the electrons' orbits so that the image is realistically reproduced.

A detector is situated at the sample that registers the X-rays emitted when electrons meet the sample. At this point, an indication of the type and number of atoms is recorded. At the base a spectrometer measures how much energy the electrons lose on the way through the sample, data that reveals the chemical bonds. This provides scientists with knowledge about virtually everything related to the matter, and, on the smallest possible scale.

Dubbed "Arwen" after an elf from one of J.R.R. Tolkien's tales, the electron microscope is funded by a grant of SEK 46 million from the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation for LiU's materials scientists with Professor Lars Hultman at the forefront.

The circular building with its sloping walls and roof, clad with titanium plates, was designed by Tham & Widegård Architects and erected by Akademiska Hus Öst. The extremely sensitive instrument is very demanding in terms of stability, temperature, noise, air quality and electromagnetic fields. Design and construction has been a major challenge for all involved. The microscope is mounted on a plate anchored in the bedrock and isolated from the rest of the building so that external vibrations from the surrounding environment are eliminated.

Tham & Widegård Architects’ images
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Åke Hjelm 2011-10-26



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Last updated: 2014-10-29