Groundbreaking Israeli microscope can change the face of tech — scientists
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Researchers say they have seen the light

Groundbreaking Israeli microscope can change the face of tech — scientists

Professor Ido Kaminer says he has given the electron microscope the ultimate upgrade — from a machine that takes ‘stills’ to one that ‘makes movies’

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

The new quantum microscope at the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology. (Nitzan Zohar, Technion spokesperson's office)
The new quantum microscope at the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology. (Nitzan Zohar, Technion spokesperson's office)

Israeli scientists say they have developed a quantum electron microscope that gives the clearest picture ever produced of light moving inside materials.

“It’s like the moment when we went from having cameras that could capture still images to also having the power to capture video,” Professor Ido Kaminer, inventor of the new microscope, told The Times of Israel.

Standard electron microscopes produce still images, or slow-moving images, while Kaminer’s, built at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, gives what he calls a “movie view” of what is happening inside materials.

“It’s an electron microscope that takes us from frozen images or very slow frame rates to extremely fast motion, and this really opens doors, allowing us to improve the way we design technology, and helps us to push electronics to its fastest and most powerful,” he said.

Kaminer added: “This is the first time we have built something like this in Israel, and it’s one of the best microscopes in the world.” He said it is one of a handful of a new generation of microscopes, known as ultrafast electron microscopes, with other notable successes being in the US, Germany and Switzerland.

While the microscope has been in use for months — and maintained by scientists given special permission to work during the coronavirus crisis — the Technion has kept it hushed until the team could prove its accuracy and their claims were peer reviewed. It has gone public now that an article on experiments conducted using the new microscope has been published in the journal Nature.

Professor Ido Kaminer of the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology (Nitzan Zohar, Technion spokesperson’s office)

The experiments focused on the microscope’s power to capture moving images from inside nano materials, meaning materials consisting of particles or constituents of tiny magnitude.

Kaminer explained that microscope technology hasn’t kept up with the needs of the high-tech sector, which can innovate and problem-solve best if it can see, in detail, what is happening inside the chips, components and devices it produces. His microscope can show movement of both electricity and light, he said.

Photo taken by the new quantum microscope: the light pattern captured in a photonic crystal (courtesy of the Technion)

“Now, we can see where current is going, where light is moving, and how temperature evolves,” he said. “Other electron microscopes can do this within certain limits. Almost all electron microscopes show you still images, or very slow images at 100 frames per second, while we have a million billion frames per second.

“With this I can take electronic devices, glimpse inside, and see things in time and space that others can’t. For example we’ll be able to see, when operating a device, where current is going and how quickly.”

Kaminer said that he has already talked to Intel about how it may use the microscope, and believes that the microscope will enable advances in attempts to increasingly use light, as opposed to electricity, to transfer data.

Professor Ido Kaminer of the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology (left) with his research team (Nitzan Zohar, Technion spokesperson’s office)

“It’s a young research group, with some students who are still undergraduates and one graduate student from China, and everyone has worked so hard,” Kaminer commented. “During the height of the installation we were working 20 hours a day, including weekends.

“We have watched it operating for some time, but only after it is 100% certified by others, tested by other scientists, and accepted as a journal article did we want to talk about this.”

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