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Home > News > A subatomic space race: Canada takes a huge leap forward in a very small space

May 29th, 2011

A subatomic space race: Canada takes a huge leap forward in a very small space

Abstract:
In a basement below the University of Victoria, workers are putting the finishing touches on a $1.2 million "dead" room. Thick panels block out electromagnetic waves. Large fabric "socks" cover the room's air-conditioning vents to block even the slightest draft. The room even stands on its foundation to shield it from infinitesimal vibrations elsewhere in the building.

It is in this room that scientists are preparing to install the most powerful microscope in human history. Known as the Scanning Transmission Electron Holography Microscope (STEHM), when it is operational it will be capable of zooming in to magnifications of about 40 trillionths of a meter — 2.5 million times smaller than the width of a sheet of paper.

The microscope is so sensitive that its accuracy could be affected by little more than a passing cloud. Its specimens will be so small that researchers will need a conventional electron microscope just to prepare them. But it is well worth the trouble. Once the machine is up and running, it will give researchers an unprecedented look into the subatomic universe.

Little is known about the characteristics of the subatomic world. Scientists have some knowledge of how waves and atoms behave in environments of only a few trillionths of a meter, but nobody has seen it firsthand. Using the STEHM, scientists can begin making detailed measurements of previously unknown sub-atomic characteristics. Those measurements, in turn, will be a valuable roadmap in designing nanotechnology.

The machine is the brainchild of long-time microscopy researcher Rodney Herring. About 10 years ago, while working as a microgravity scientist at the Canadian Space Agency, Mr. Herring hit upon the idea of assembling a world-class microscope by marrying together two microscopy technologies being developed in Japan and Germany. Numerous failed grant applications later, in 2007 he finally secured $4-million from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation and another $4 million from the British Columbia Knowledge Development Fund. Now, as the director of UVic's newly-minted Advanced Microscopy Lab, he is laying the ground work for the STEHM.

Source:
nationalpost.com

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