Published: Nov. 9, 2020

Capable of achieving spatial resolutions of 70 pm—smaller than the size of an atom—the Thermo Scientific Titan Themis S/TEM, located in the newly-launched CU Facility for Electron Microscopy of Materials (CU FEMM), is now the highest-resolution electron microscope in Colorado. 

Taller than a person and equipped with multiple cameras and detectors, this state-of-the-art, aberration-corrected electron microscopy platform makes groundbreaking research possible in a wide range of fields, including catalysis, advanced imaging, quantum information, energy conversion, biomaterials, battery research, geology, materials development and even archaeology. A team from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) is even exploring a potential COVID-19 study using the microscope to inspect the salt from dried saliva droplets. 

Thanks to a powerful remote operation system, users can control the instrument without stepping foot on campus—a boon during a global pandemic, and a long-term opportunity for researchers across the state. Approved users can take advantage of the microscope’s powerful capabilities through a virtual control panel, which allows them to operate the microscope online, or through a separate physical control panel installed in a remote location. This access will empower universities, national labs, industry and startup companies both regionally and nationally to participate in transformative research across disciplines. 

Identifying nanomaterial defects to improve electronic devices 

Core-Shell AI precipitate

STEM-EDS study of core-shell nano-precipitates in AI-Er-Sc-Zr-V-Si alloy.

CU FEMM’s new microscopy platform is already advancing existing technologies through its ability to identify abnormalities in energy-related nanomaterials, such as those used in electronic devices. 

Developing nanomaterials is a tricky business. Even after creating a synthesized material with every characteristic necessary for improved device performance, engineers are often unsure whether they have successfully produced the material they designed. The only way to be certain is to inspect the unique arrangement of atoms that make up the material’s structure. 

Due to uncorrected aberration in their lenses, conventional electron microscopes produce an image that misses the details in the atomic structure of materials—an effect that Sadegh Yazdi, an associate research professor in RASEI and CU FEMM director, compares to “looking through the bottom of a Coke bottle.” By comparison, the Titan Themis platform offers the clarity of a camera lens, revealing changes in the order of atoms, uneven distribution, the number of layers in a material and more. The instrument can also differentiate between different types of individual atoms.

Atomic resolution images of a novel lead-halide perovskite nanocrystal as a photocatalyst

Atomic resolution images of a novel lead-halide perovskite nanocrystal as a photocatalyst

“In my work, for example, I’m interested in solar energy harvesting,” says Gordana Dukovic, an associate professor in chemistry and fellow of CU Boulder’s Renewable & Sustainable Energy Institute (RASEI). “How much sunlight a material will absorb depends on its composition and how the atoms are arranged. As we start developing more novel materials, they can have surprising arrangements of atoms. Other characterization techniques can mask this.”

But through the lens of the Titan Themis, the various quirks and unexpected properties of synthesized nanomaterials have no place to hide. 

How you can use the microscope

CU FEMM is part of CU Boulder’s growing Shared Instrumentation Network, which promotes interdisciplinary collaboration across the CU Boulder campus (and beyond) through shared facilities, equipment and instrumentation services. 

If your university, lab, company or startup is interested in using the Thermo Scientific Titan Themis platform, please submit a training request through the CU FEMM website. 

Learn more about the Titan Themis instrument