New TEM Will Image Individual Atoms, MRI Announces

July 13, 2012

FEI Titan cubed

Today, Penn State announced the acquisition of the FEI Titan3 scanning/transmission electron microscope (S/TEM), called the Titan Cubed. This double aberration corrected 60-300 kV S/TEM will take imaging and chemical characterization to a new level with subatomic resolution.

In announcing the acquisition, MRI director Carlo Pantano noted that in the history of materials research, advanced instrumentation has often played a key role in scientific breakthroughs, for example the use of x-rays to understand the atomic structure of materials. With the Titan Cubed, researchers will be able to perform atomic scale imaging and chemical mapping, use tomography to perform 3-D imaging, and look at defects in 2-D materials, such as those being developed for nanoscale electronics. The double aberration correction is like putting on two pairs of "magnetic eyeglasses," Pantano remarked, which eliminate the resolution-degrading aberrations intrinsic to most imaging lenses.

Acquiring a carefully-selected, leading-edge instrument such as the Titan3 will catalyze new discoveries in both materials and life sciences. Trevor Clark, supervisor of the TEM facility in the Materials Characterization Lab, remarked that with such high spatial resolution and tomography capabilities, scientists in both disciplines will be able to determine the 3-D structure of their specimens. "It gives us the ability to image individual atoms and identify atomic columns by chemical composition," he said.

Pantano gave high marks to Penn State for providing funds that made the purchase of this high-end instrumentation possible, noting that there are few opportunities to obtain an instrument such as this through federal grant funding. Faculty placed this type of instrument as a top priority on the list of big equipment needs in the Office of the Vice President for Research.

VP for Research Henry (Hank) Foley added the following note:

The new FEI Titan transmission electron microscope once again places the Penn State research community at the leading edge of science and the nanoscale. This instrument will provide us with the highest resolution atomic-scale imaging that science can provide today. While we cannot know for sure what discoveries will be made as a result of this microscope, we can anticipate that in the fullness of time many will emerge. This is the nature of science.

But what we can know for sure is that Penn State will remain true to the legacy entrusted to us by Evan Pugh, its first President, and a scientist. We will have as our goal to be one of the world's best research institutions - anywhere and at any time. And so our strategy will always be the same: to reinvest our resources to do the very best science that can be done. Our vision has to be unsurpassed at the integration of research with teaching and outreach and we remain on that path.

Let me thank our President, Dr. Erickson, for his unwavering support of Penn State's research enterprise. For well over a decade, Rod has been, and continues to be, our champion, and I thank him for that.

The Titan3 is expected to be delivered and operational in the first quarter of 2013. This acquisition also included a second microscope, a cryo-TEM for soft and biological materials, which will be co-located with the Titan in the MSC. FEI, which is considered a partner in developing the potential of this instrument, will offer instrument workshops in the fall of 2012, one dedicated to hard materials and another to soft and biological materials. In addition, the FEI Nanoport offers support to faculty, students, and staff by phone or email.

To have an expert visit your group meeting or company and share how the Titan may impact your research contact Trevor Clark (, (814) 883-9350).

For images and technical specifications, visit the MRI/MCL Titan3 webpage.