Atoms are the building blocks of matter and the study of these atoms is known as nanotechnology. The SuperSTEM 2 can show an atom at 20 million times its size. To put this into context, if a person were magnified by this much they would be able to hug the Earth.
However, it is not just the scale of magnification that makes SuperSTEM 2 unique – it is also the sharpness of the image, its capability to provide elemental and chemical data about atoms and its stability. Built on sandstone bedrock, the incredibly stable geological conditions at the Daresbury Laboratory is one of the key reasons for its location – the system is so stable that any sample in the microscope would move no more than half a millimetre in 100 years. In other words, 2000 times slower than continental drift.
The SuperSTEM 2, or Scanning Transmission Electron Microscope, works by scanning a beam that has been focussed down to the size of an atom, across a sample, providing chemical information on the sample at the same time. Although scanning transmission electron microscopy has been used as a technique for some years, detailed imaging of atoms was previously impossible due to defects that all lenses suffer from.
SuperSTEM also has applications in medicine and is being used to aid understanding of diseases such as the inherited disease haemochromatosis, where the liver becomes overloaded with iron. The tiny particles that hold iron within the body are being examined as their structure will shed light on how iron is transported, stored and released in the body and why they become toxic to the body when there is too much of it.
MEDICA.de; Source: Science and Technology Facilities Council