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The Vast Potential of Atomic-Scale Microscopy

When Ondrej Krivanek first considered building a device to boost the resolution of electron microscopes, he asked about funding from the U.S. Department of Energy. “The response was not positive,” he says, laughing. He heard through the grapevine that the administrator who held the purse strings declared that the project would be funded “over his dead body.”     

“People just felt it was too complicated, and that nobody would ever make it work,” says Krivanek. But he tried anyway.  After all, he says, “If everyone expects you to fail, you can only exceed expectations.”

The correctors that Krivanek, Niklas Dellby, and other colleagues subsequently designed for the scanning transmission electron microscope did exceed expectations. They focus the microscope’s electron beam, which scans back and forth across the sample like a spotlight, and make it possible to distinguish individual atoms and to conduct chemical analysis within a sample. For his pioneering efforts,

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Microscopy breakthrough reveals how proteins behave in 3-D

Microscopy breakthrough reveals how proteins behave in 3D
A new microscopy system that can can image individual molecules in 3D and capture the way they “wobble” uses a specially engineered glass plate developed by University of Rochester optical scientists. Credit: University of Rochester photo / J. Adam Fenster

Six years ago, the Nobel Prize in chemistry was awarded to three scientists for finding ways to visualize the pathways of individual molecules inside living cells.


Now, researchers at the University of Rochester and the Fresnel Institute in France have found a way to visualize those molecules in even greater detail, showing their position and orientation in 3-D, and even how they wobble and oscillate. The work could shed invaluable insights into the biological processes involved, for example, when a cell and the proteins that regulate its functions react to the virus that causes COVID-19.

“When a protein changes shape, it exposes other atoms that enhance the biological process, so

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