Year/Course: 2014-2015, Easter 2015

Contact: Dr. David Ward, Physics
Mentor: Dr. Julian White

The research team at the Cavendish has collaborated closely with Dr. Paul Dastoor’s team in Newcastle, Australia over the past 10 years. As a result, working concept microscopes based on their new technique have been constructed in both Cambridge and Newcastle. The designs are currently being refined to increase the resolution and speed up the imaging process.

The microscopes represent a new concept – a scanning Helium microscope using a helium atom beam. The Helium beam is very low energy, which means that it will not damage the surface being observed in the way that electron beams and Helium ion beams do. The technique measures surface features only – the atoms do not penetrate into the structure of the sample. Another advantage is that no complex sample preparation is needed – the sample simply needs to be placed into the microscope to be imaged.

The difficulty of the approach is handling and focusing the Helium atom beams, which is where the expertise and know-how of the research groups is needed.

The researchers believe that the microscope will ultimately be applicable to any vacuum-compatible application which needs nanometre resolution surface-sensitive imaging without damaging the observed surface. Some examples include imaging transparent and delicate materials, thin insulating films, mineralised biomaterials, and energtetic materials (which can quickly degrade under an electron beam).

The question for the i-Team is to identify which markets and applications have need of this new technique, and what their requirements would be for the technology, looking at both research and commercial uses. In particular the team will need to consider whether the new microscope would replace or complement existing equipment, and whether the Helium beam method is most valuable as a stand-alone system or when combined with other imaging techniques.