New Flinders probe reveals nanostructures

Professor Jamie Quinton with the nanoprobe.

A new, highly specialised electron microscope will allow Flinders University scientists building nanostructures at the molecular scale to see directly what they’re doing for the first time.

The $1 million Scanning Auger Nanoprobe (SAN) facility has an elemental mapping capability and is one of only two instruments of its kind in Australia.

Professor Jamie Quinton of the Flinders Centre for NanoScale Science and Technology (CNSST) says the US-made instrument will play an important part in a range of research programs, including projects to revolutionise solar cells as well as the creation of a new range of anti-corrosion coatings.

The new instrument has a critical ability to map an experimental surface and highlight specific elements, allowing researchers to see what is there or if their modifications have been successful.

“This machine is like having a brand new set of eyes,” Professor Quinton said.

To test their molecular architecture “builds” in the past, researchers relied on indirect measures to confirm their creations.

“We used to think, ‘Well, on average it appears to be made of the elements it should be, so we think we’ve made what we originally set out to make’ – now we can directly see and say ‘Yes, we’ve made what intended to’,” Professor Quinton said.

He said the new equipment will be used in conjunction with other high-tech measuring techniques such as a Scanning Probe and Raman Microscopy.

“To get a complete picture we still need multiple instruments, but the Auger Nanoprobe combines composition with position: what it is made of, and where it is on the surface. This is a very powerful capability – you normally only get one or the other.”

While located at Flinders, the equipment was purchased with a LIEF infrastructure grant from the Australian Research Council, and is part of the South Australian node of the Australian Microscopy and Microanalysis Research Facility (AMMRF).

“It’s accessible to any researcher who wants to use Auger microscopy,” Professor Quinton said.

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