New microscope takes UCT closer

04 May 2010 | Story by Newsroom

Miranda WaldronClose-up: Operator Miranda Waldron with the EMU's new Nova NanoSEM.

"We are looking dangerously first world."

Professor Trevor Sewell, head of UCT's Electron Microscope Unit (EMU), was only half joking.

The handover of the new field emission (FEG) scanning electron microscope (SEM) on 22 April places the unit on the razor's edge of scanning electron microscopy technology. It's the only SEM of its kind in the Western Cape - although there is a similar instrument in Pretoria.

The FEG SEM - named the Nova NanoSEM by its manufacturers, the FEI Company based in Oregon in the US - can actually see single atoms, and the way in which they are connected to each other. It can also look at cross-sections without any damage to the object being examined.

Because of these capabilities, the microscope can be used for highly advanced research and development over a wide range of applications. The FEG SEM is capable of delivering high-resolution surface details in areas such as semi-conductors, ceramics, plastics, nano-particles and immune-gold labelling.

The microscope is also less sensitive to charging on non-conductive materials, which means it is also versatile in biological and chemical applications. The technology has also proven useful in addressing global concerns, such as energy, water, food, the environment, education and crime.

The acquisition of the FEG SEM is part of a R24-million revamp of the EMU - a project made possible by contributions from the Wolfson Foundation, Sasol and Anglo-American.

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