Almost every electron microscope in the world bears a “Czech footprint”

30. 5. 2017 | Source: Technology Agency of the Czech Republic

Today, optical microscopes can observe objects with dimensions of tenths of a micrometre. However, electron microscopes allow you to examine objects a thousand times smaller. They include an instrument that can read information about the changes in the motion of electrons and convert them into a final image. Researchers in the Czech Republic are the best in the world at developing such instruments.

“It was also one of the main reasons why we provided over one hundred fifty-seven million CZK in support to the Electron Microscopy project. This project was supported from the Competence Centres Programme, which is designed to support the establishment and activities of centres of research, development and innovation in advanced fields with strong application and innovative potential and perspective for significant contributions to the growth of competitiveness of the Czech Republic,” said the Chairman of TA CR, Petr Očko. Projects in the Competence Centres programme support long-term collaboration between research organizations and enterprises, and this particular one has been running since 2012, and should end in 2019.

Electron microscopes are complicated and allow you to see into the nanoworld, bringing not only images, but much more. Instead of light rays they use an electron beam. “This can be controlled very well and has a much smaller wavelength than photons of visible light, so we can see smaller objects with higher resolution,” said Marek Unčovský, principal investigator of the proAlmost every electron microscope in the world bears a “Czech footprint” Today, optical microscopes can observe objects with dimensions of tenths of a micrometre. However, electron microscopes allow you to examine objects a thousand times smaller. They include an instrument that can read information about the changes in the motion of electrons and convert them into a final image. Researchers in the Czech Republic are the best in the world at developing such instruments. Photo: FEI and CRYTUR archive ject. The disadvantage is that the image “created” by electrons cannot be directly observed with the naked eye because we cannot see electrons. We must have the equipment to convey this image. “This means that it can read information about the changes that happen when the electrons strike the observed object and pass through it or reflect back from it and in doing so change e.g. their speed or direction,” added Unčovský.

One such device is an electron detector, which as a scintillator it its heart – an artificially grown monocrystal with a unique composition and unique properties. The impact of the particles or waves on the monocrystal shows a characteristic flash, which is reflected back and transformed into an electrical impulse, which allows us to obtain information about the important characteristics of the electron signal. This is used by the researchers to build the resulting image. It is necessary for the equipment to be sensitive and accurate; hence, the properties of the monocrystal are so important.

A  new monocrystal, which helps quickly and accurately transmit information about the scattered electrons and other particles, has been created by experts from the companies FEI and CRYTUR. The patented technology grows monocrystals using an element called praseodymium with an image retention time of only 9 billionths of a second. The mage retention time is one of the key parameters of the scintillation of monocrystals.

In addition to the previously mentioned companies, the Electron Microscopy project is being performed by a number of other companies and institutions, such as DELONG INSTRUMENTS a.s., Výzkumný a zkušební ústav Plzeň s.r.o., Biology Centre CAS, Institute of Macromolecular Chemistry AS CR, v.v.i., Institute of Scientific Instruments of the CAS, v.v.i. and Institute of Molecular Genetics of the ASCR, v.v.i.

“It is estimated that about forty percent of electron microscopes in the world have something from the Czech Republic – be it components, parts, or know how. The scintillators developed during to the project, are also being included in new instruments being sent around the world,” said Petr Burian, Electron Microscopy project manager.

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