Essentially, they say, the tool is an electron version of the laser "optical tweezers" that have become a standard tool in biology, physics and chemistry for manipulating tiny particles. Except that electron beams could offer a thousand-fold improvement in sensitivity and resolution.
Optical tweezers were first described in 1986 by a research team at Bell Labs. The general idea is that under the right conditions, a tightly focused laser beam will exert a small but useful force on tiny particles. Not pushing them away, which you might expect, but rather drawing them towards the center of the beam. Biochemists, for example, routinely use the effect to manipulate individual cells or liposomes under a microscope.
If you just consider the physics, says NIST metallurgist Vladimir Oleshko, you might expect that a beam of focused electrons—such as that created by a transmission electron microscope (TEM)—could do the same thing. However that's never been seen, in part because electrons are much fussier to work with. They can't penetrate far through air, for example, so electron microscopes use vacuum chambers to hold specimens.
So Oleshko and his colleague, UVA materials scientist James Howe, were surprised when, in the course of another experiment, they found themselves watching an electron tweezer at work. They were using an electron microscope to study, in detail, what happens when a metal alloy melts or freezes. They were observing a small particle—a few hundred microns wide—of an aluminum-silicon alloy held just at a transition point where it was partially molten, a liquid shell surrounding a core of still solid metal. In such a small sample, the electron beam can excite plasmons, a kind of quantized wave in the alloy's electrons, that reveals a lot about what happens at the liquid-solid boundary of a crystallizing metal. "Scientifically, it's interesting to see how the electrons behave," says Howe, "but from a technological point of view, you can make better metals if you understand, in detail, how they go from liquid to solid."
"This effect of electron tweezers was unexpected because the general purpose of this experiment was to study melting and crystallization," Oleshko explains. "We can generate this sphere inside the liquid shell easily; you can tell from the image that it's still crystalline. But we saw that when we move or tilt the beam—or move the microscope stage under the beam—the solid particle follows it, like it was glued to the beam."
Potentially, Oleshko says, electron tweezers could be a versatile and valuable tool, adding very fine manipulation to wide and growing lists of uses for electron microscopy in materials science.** "Of course, this is challenging because it requires a vacuum," he says, "but electron probes can be very fine, three orders of magnitude smaller than photon beams—close to the size of single atoms. We could manipulate very small quantities, even single atoms, in a very precise way."
See video clip of effect at http://youtu.be/x1IMruGk8e0
* V.P. Oleshko and J.M. Howe. Are electron tweezers possible? Ultramicroscopy (2011) doi:10.1016/j.ultramic.2011.08.015.
** See, for example, the Jan. 19, 2011, Tech Beat story "NIST Puts a New Twist on the Electron Beam" at www.nist.gov/public_affairs/tech-beat/tb20110119.cfm#tem
Michael Baum | EurekAlert!
Further Improvement of Qubit Lifetime for Quantum Computers
09.12.2016 | Forschungszentrum Jülich
Electron highway inside crystal
09.12.2016 | Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg
Physicists of the University of Würzburg have made an astonishing discovery in a specific type of topological insulators. The effect is due to the structure of the materials used. The researchers have now published their work in the journal Science.
Topological insulators are currently the hot topic in physics according to the newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Only a few weeks ago, their importance was...
In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.
Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...
Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
09.12.2016 | Life Sciences
09.12.2016 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation
09.12.2016 | Health and Medicine