A multi-million-Euro microscope funded by Science Foundation Ireland and the University of Limerick (UL), was unveiled today at UL’s Bernal Institute. The new microscope will allow researchers to study materials at an atomic level in real-world conditions and is one of only a handful of microscopes with these capabilities worldwide.

The Titan Themis is a double-corrected, monochromated Transmission Electron Microscope (TEM) and is valued at €6 million. A further €3 million worth of specialist equipment has been added to the UL machine including in-situ microscopy and ultra-fast and sensitive detectors, as well as environmental holders, which allow for the behaviour of materials to be studied in real-time across a range of environments.

“The holders for the specimens are especially interesting. For the past 70 years, we have been observing materials in a vacuum and not in the conditions these materials are used on a day-to-day basis. The holders allow us to introduce specific triggers into samples allowing us to see how these materials, at an atomic level, interact with the world, for example, how they react when exposed to different gases, liquids, heating, biasing or cryo-cooling,” explained Dr Andrew Stewart of UL’s Department of Physics and the Bernal Institute.

“This TEM is also equipped with a detector which allows us to capture the atoms’ reactions at a rate of 1,600 frames per second. Up until now, we have only been able to detect 10 frames per second so effectively this new camera will allow us to record the processes at a sub-millisecond timescale and capture that information as it unfolds. It is the difference between seeing time-stamped stills of a process and seeing a movie of what is happening at an atomic level. It is the combination of all of these features, that makes this microscope quite unique,” he continued.

The microscope could be used in the drug discovery and design processes in the pharmaceutical industry; medical device development; in the electronics industry; and, in materials characterisation in the nuclear and aviation industries.

President of UL, Dr Des Fitzgerald, officially unveiled the microscope at a ceremony in the Bernal Institute on Wednesday.

“At a total value of €9 million, the acquisition of the Titan Themis marks the biggest single investment in a piece of instrumentation by University of Limerick. TEM is a fast evolving area of research that is moving towards automation and structural dynamics at shorter timescales – these new facilities will place UL at the forefront of this directional change, and will create a generation of postgraduate students who will have world-class skills in electron microscopy. This, in turn, will strengthen UL’s international academic profile by attracting overseas students and programmes,” Dr Fitzgerald stated.

The equipment is funded by University of Limerick in partnership with Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) through its Infrastructure and Opportunistic funds and has already enabled funding to be received from FET Open via Horizon2020.