The invisible is made visible by the microscopes. Moreover, in comparison with the traditional light microscopes, transmission X-ray microscopes (TXM) can view through samples with considerably higher resolution, exhibiting extraordinary details. TXM is used by scientists across an extensive range of scientific domains to view the structural and chemical makeup of their samples ranging from biological cells to energy storage materials.

Currently, researchers at the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II)—a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science User Facility at DOE’s Brookhaven National Laboratory—have created a TXM with the ability to image samples 10 times faster than was possible earlier. The study has been reported in Applied Physics Letters.

“We have significantly improved the speed of X-ray microscopy experiments,” stated Wah-Keat Lee, lead scientist at NSLS-II’s Full Field X-ray Imaging (FXI) beamline, where the microscope was developed. At FXI, Lee and his team members decreased the time taken by a TXM to image samples in 3D from more than 10 minutes to just 1 minute, while still forming images with excellent 3D resolution below 50 nm, or 50 billionths of a meter. “This breakthrough will enable scientists to visualize their samples much faster at FXI than at similar instruments around the world,” stated Lee. A faster TXM can not only decrease the time it takes to complete an experiment but can also gather more valuable data from samples.

The holy grail of almost all imaging techniques is to be able to see a sample in 3D and in real time. The speed of these experiments is relevant because we want to observe changes that happen quickly. There are many structural and chemical changes that happen on different time scales, so a faster instrument can see a lot more. For example, we have the ability to track how corrosion happens in a material, or how well various parts of a battery are performing.
Wah-Keat Lee, Lead Scientist, Full Field X-ray Imaging (FXI) beamline, NSLS-II


Image Credit:    Brookhaven National Laboratory

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