- The new microscope exploits the reflection of X-ray radiation on magnetic materials.
- It pinpoints the exact structure and composition of a sample, as well as the elements causing magnetism.
Nickel, cobalt and iron alloys look almost the same to an ordinary observer, even under a conventional microscope (mostly used in schools). However, we now have several advanced microscopes that allow us to observe things that are 1000x smaller and differentiate between materials.
Research microscopes, in particular, are developed for the most demanding applications in life science research. For these applications, high resolution is a critical factor, especially at high magnifications. Such microscopes are often integrated with special cameras and imaging software to analyze samples.
To carry out detailed and more advanced analysis of a given sample, researchers at Munster University of Applied Sciences developed a new microscope that can make magnetism visible. They have been working on this project for more than 3 years.
How Did They Do This?
The new microscope exploits the reflection of X-ray radiation on magnetic materials. The team has studied nanomaterials that are used for data storage. Computers read/write bits (stored magnetically) from/on hard disk drives.
This microscope can pinpoint the exact structure and composition of a sample, as well as the elements causing magnetism. It is currently housed at Dortmund Electron Accelerator (DELTA).
Electron accelerators (also known as synchrotrons) generate unique radiation — synchrotron radiation — that is crucial for examining the sample under the microscope. It’s extremely intense and more powerful than solar radiation: it goes way beyond the X-ray and ultraviolet range.
Image credit: FH Münster / PT
The electron accelerator is similar to a giant, universal lamp. The new microscope focuses synchrotron radiation onto a sample in a focal point that is 5 times thinner than a human hair.
Although the microscope itself is reasonably small (same as the size of a large shoe box), it stands in a large vacuum chamber. It is packed with numerous tiny components, but the most important one is 0.23-mm-wide lens, which is manufactured in the Jülich Research Centre.
Putting together these instruments was a challenging task, which required a lot of expertise and patience. A few of them were virtually imperceptible to the naked eye.
The team also developed accompanying software that provides several mechanisms, including nano-motors that are used to set up and position the sample.
There are very few machines like this around the world, and if you are interested you can request researchers to take you on a tour of DELTA synchrotron.