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UL unveils one-of-a-kind multi-million-Euro Bernal Institute microscope

Dr Andy Stewart, Lecturer in microscopy, Dr Lorraine Byrne, Executive Director AMBER centre, Prof Ursel Bangert, Bernal Chair of Microscopy and Imaging and Professor Luuk van der Wielen, Director of the Bernal Institute at the new Bernal Institute microscope. Picture: Sean Curtin/True Media

UL unveils one-of-a-kind multi-million-Euro Bernal Institute microscope

A multi-million-Euro microscope, the Bernal Institute microscope, was unveiled at University of Limerick’s Bernal Institute on Wednesday, June 21, 2017, will allow researchers to study materials at an atomic level in real-world conditions. This is one of only a handful of microscopes with these capabilities worldwide.

The Bernal Institute microscope is new Titan Themis is a double-corrected, monochromated Transmission Electron Microscope (TEM) and is valued at €6 million. A further €3 million worth of specialist equipment has been added to the UL machine including in-situ microscopy and ultra-fast and sensitive detectors, as well as environmental holders, which allow for the behaviour of materials to be studied in real-time across a range of environments. 

Bernal Institute Microscope

Prof Des Fitzgerald, President of the University of Limerick, Prof. Edmond Magner, Dean, Faculty of Science and Engineering and Prof Ursel Bangert, Bernal Chair of Microscopy and Imaging at the new microscope. Picture: Sean Curtin/True Media

“The holders for the specimens are especially interesting. For the past 70 years, we have been observing materials in a vacuum and not in the conditions these materials are used on a day-to-day basis. The holders allow us to introduce specific triggers into samples allowing us to see how these materials, at an atomic level, interact with the world, for example, how they react when exposed to different gases, liquids, heating, biasing or cryo-cooling,” explained Dr Andrew Stewart of UL’s Department of Physics and the Bernal Institute.

“This TEM is also equipped with a detector which allows us to capture the atoms’ reactions at a rate of 1,600 frames per second. Up until now, we have only been able to detect 10 frames per second so effectively this new camera will allow us to record the processes at a sub-millisecond timescale and capture that information as it unfolds. It is the difference between seeing time-stamped stills of a process and seeing a movie of what is happening at an atomic level. It is the combination of all of these features, that makes this microscope quite unique,” he continued.

The microscope could be used in the drug discovery and design processes in the pharmaceutical industry; medical device development; in the electronics industry; and, in materials characterisation in the nuclear and aviation industries.

President of UL, Dr Des Fitzgerald, officially unveiled the microscope at a ceremony in the Bernal Institute on Wednesday.

“At a total value of €9 million, the acquisition of the Titan Themis marks the biggest single investment in a piece of instrumentation by the University of Limerick. TEM is a fast evolving area of research that is moving towards automation and structural dynamics at shorter timescales – these new facilities will place UL at the forefront of this directional change, and will create a generation of postgraduate students who will have world-class skills in electron microscopy. This, in turn, will strengthen UL’s international academic profile by attracting overseas students and programmes,” Dr Fitzgerald stated.

The equipment is funded by the University of Limerick in partnership with Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) through its Infrastructure and Opportunistic funds and has already enabled funding to be received from FET Open via Horizon2020.

Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland, said: “Science Foundation Ireland is delighted to support Irish researchers by providing them with world-class facilities and equipment, such as the new Transmission Electron Microscope at the University of Limerick. These investments, which enable the research community to keep exploring the frontiers of STEM, are vital for attracting investment and talent to Ireland and ensuring we remain at the forefront of scientific research and development”.

Among those in attendance at the launch were: Dr Darrin Morrissey, Director of Programmes, SFI; Professor Louisa Meshi of the Ben Gurion University in Israel; Professor Stephen Donnelly of the University of Huddersfield in the UK; Professor Rafal Dunin-Borkowski of Forschungszentrum Jülich in Germany; Professor Rik Brydson of the University of Leeds in the UK; Professor Eva Olsson of Chalmers University in Sweden; and, Professor Dwayne Miller of Hamburg University in Germany.

For more on the University of Limerick click here

For more on the Science Foundation Ireland click here

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