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The European Union is funding the development of analytical electron microscopy


Electron microscopy is a key technology to reveal and finally also control the atomic structure and chemical composition of materials with (sub-)Ångström resolution. It is an essential technique to develop highly functional materials to drive forward future-orientated research areas like renewable energy technology, life sciences, and communication and quantum technology.

To realize these breakthroughs, electron microscopy technology is required with ultrafast time scale, ultrahigh energy resolution, covering low-energy spectral ranges and several other capabilities, all of which are beyond the present state of the art. The EBEAM project ("Electron Beams Enhancing Analytical Microscopy") aims to enhance the analytical capabilities of electron microscopy according to future technical requirements taking the interactions between electrons and light into consideration.

Started on January 1st, 2021 it is funded by the European Union (EU) Research and Innovation programme Horizon 2020 with five million euro for the next 5 years. Next to Professor Nahid Talebi from the Institute of Experimental and Applied Physics at Kiel University, seven other research institutions and companies are involved from Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and France.

How electron microscopes work

In electron microscopes, electrons are accelerated to high speeds in a bundled beam and directed onto a material sample. Due to the speed, their wavelengths are much shorter than those of visible light and a far better resolution can be achieved than with a light microscope. The highest possible resolution to date is in the range of the measurement unit "Ångström". An Ångström is the ten millionth part of a millimetre and is therefore even smaller than a nanometre. Depending on the type of microscope, an image of the sample is obtained from the electrons that pass through it or are reflected by it.

The aim of the EBEAM project is to enhance the analytical capabilities of electron microscopy by bringing together electron beams and light beams. The interactions between electrons and light create novel measurement modalities that combine ultrahigh spectral and temporal control with sub-Ångström spatial resolution. Because when electrons meet photons, for example, their energy, speed or momentum changes.

Using new correlation and coincidence modalities that have never been used in electron microscopes before, the scientists of the consortium will unveil new methods to probe selection rules, low-energy band structures, trace elements, and more. "This would reach a dimension that opens up completely new possibilities in material design", says Talebi. The broad applicability of the new EBEAM techniques will be demonstrated in selected research projects that target key questions in energy conversion materials, opto-electronic materials and quantum technology.

Subproject of Kiel University investigates the dynamics of photons in semiconducting materials

The EBEAM project constitutes four work packages in total that cover a broad range of electron microscopy applications. Talebi from the Institute of Experimental and Applied Physics at Kiel University leads the third work package and contributes as well to the first and forth work packages, with variety of scanning electron microscopy techniques and numerical and theoretical developments.

She aims at developing methods to unravel coherent and incoherent relaxation dynamics in semiconducting materials, and probing the propagation dynamics of coupled plasmon-photon and exciton-photon quasiparticles with nanometer spatial resolution. "That will lead to the development of more efficient schemes for coherent energy transfer in nanophotonic devices and could be interesting for collaborations between various departments", Talebi says.

The project will be funded by the "FET Proactive" Initiative (Future and Emerging Technologies) of the Horizon 2020 Programme of the EU. It nurtures emerging themes, seeking to establish a critical mass of European researchers in a number of promising exploratory research topics. This supports areas that are not yet ready for inclusion in industry research roadmaps, with the aim of building up and structuring new interdisciplinary research communities.

Therefore, EBEAM is aimed at strengthening the fundamental knowledge base, the infrastructure and the community of analytical electron microscopy in Europe as an area of high strategic and economic value. The consortium will organize International EBEAM Workshops and Summerschools on Analytical Electron Microscopy and carries out an extensive outreach program.

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Source: University of Kiel