New Microscope Creates Near-Real-Time Videos of Nanoscale Processes
State-of-the-art atomic force microscopes (AFMs) are designed to capture images of structures as small as a fraction of a nanometer - a million times smaller than the width of a human hair. But scanning these images is a very time-consuming process. AFMs therefore have been used mostly to image static samples, as they are too slow to capture active, changing environments. Now, engineers at MIT have designed an atomic force microscope that scans images 2,000 times faster than existing commercial models. With this new high-speed instrument, the team produced images of chemical processes taking place at the nanoscale, at a rate that is close to real-time video. "People can see, for example, condensation, nucleation, dissolution, or deposition of material, and how these happen in real-time - things that people have never seen before," says mechanical engineering professor Youcef-Toumi. "This is fantastic to see these details emerging. And it will open great opportunities to explore all of this world that is at the nanoscale."