Today QUEST takes you behind the scenes to see the most powerful microscope in the world, which happens to be in our very own backyard in Berkeley. This transmission electron microscope lives at the National Center for Electron Microscopy, at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. The microscope can produce images of things that are the size of half an atom of hydrogen. And hydrogen has the smallest atoms of any element – so that’s pretty small.
The microscope is so big that it was hauled into the Center on a crane. It’s housed in its own room, which is insulated to maintain an ideal temperature, and it’s mounted on springs to isolate it from vibrations that make images blurry.
The TEAM 0.5, as the microscope is called, excels at producing clear images of atoms sitting side by side. This makes it very useful for the scientists who investigate the properties of the materials that we use to build everyday objects like computers and airplanes. In fact, the images they produce with the microscope may one day help build stronger, lighter airplanes, and smaller, faster computers.