The Titan 80-300: Pushing the Limits of Nanotechnology
For nanotechnology researchers, thinking big starts by thinking small.
That sometimes means examining a piece of a material that's tens of thousands of times thinner than a human hair to explore its inherent structural perfection or flaws. The ability to "see" materials at these infinitesimal scales is generally limited by the magnification capabilities of the available microscope technology.
With A Little Help From Our Friends
Thanks to substantial gifts from PPG Industries and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Carnegie Mellon will purchase a Titan 80-300, one of the world's most powerful, commercially-available microscopes. The instrument, which is only built to order and will be one of only seven in the United States, will be housed at Carnegie Mellon's Center for Nano-Enabled Device and Energy Technologies (CNXT). The Titan's advanced capabilities will enable Carnegie Mellon researchers to push the boundaries of nanotechnology, and help to make magnification restrictions a thing of the past.
"The upgrade to the Titan microscope is like the difference between a 1940's Ford and a Ford made today in terms of the instrumentation and capabilities," said Elias Towe, Carnegie Mellon professor and director of CNXT.
Breaking the Magnification Barrier
In recent years, nanotechnologists have been hitting the resolution limits imposed by available microscope technology. The most powerful transmission electron microscopes and scanning electron microscopes have not been able to produce high-resolution images at the sub-Angstrom level. The Titan will allow researchers to break that magnification barrier.
Because the properties of a material depend on the detailed arrangement of its atoms, nanotechnology can answer pressing questions about a material's atomic structure, which ultimately dictates its potential utility, strengths, and durability. For example, carbon atoms arranged one way produce coal; arranged another, and they produce diamonds. Carnegie Mellon researchers aren't attempting to make diamonds from coal, but they are interested in learning how to influence the stacking of clusters of atoms in materials to obtain desired properties. They will also begin to understand what they cannot influence to better appreciate the structure of various materials. This type of research has far-reaching implications in everything from biomedicine and chemical engineering to energy technologies.
As one of the world's premier research universities, Carnegie Mellon expects that the addition of the Titan 80-300 will enable even more industry partnerships. Although the microscope's price tag makes it cost-prohibitive for even the largest companies, the university and CNXT look forward to hosting and collaborating with organizations that would benefit from the Titan's sophisticated capabilities. Access to the microscope will be facilitated through the J. Earle and Mary Roberts Materials Characterization Laboratory. Contact Tom Nuhfer for more information about this facility.
Magnification Capabilities with the Titan 80-300
The illustration below showcases the capabilities of the Titan 80-300. The diagram on the extreme left is the theoretically-accepted structural configuration of the atoms that make up silicon – the semiconductor workhorse of the microelectronics industry. The next three images, from left to right, (taken by successive generations of high-resolution microscopes) show how each image approximates that configuration. In 1985, the microscopes weren't powerful enough to reveal that there are two atoms next to each other in the structure. By 1998, some microscopes could barely illustrate the two atoms that are close to each other. But the third image in the sequence, taken in 2005 when the first Titan went into operation, reveals that the two adjacent atoms could be "resolved." The third image indicates the kind of power of magnification and resolution that Carnegie Mellon researcher will have on tap.
Credit: Images courtesy of FEI
More information on the Titan 80-300 can be found here