New Electron Microscope facility opened at University of Aberdeen

A new half million pound microscope capable of looking at objects only slightly bigger than an atom has been officially unveiled at the University of Aberdeen.

The scanning electron microscope is one of the best in Scotland and works using electrons instead of light.

It can be used to scan everything from rocks and metal to fungi and archaeological artefacts, magnifying them up to a million times.

There are a number of different detectors on the microscope. Several are used for high-resolution imaging at the scale of millimetres to nanometres which can be used, for example, to image the eyes of flies, or grains of sand in sandstone.

Other detectors can produce elemental ‘maps’ of samples, showing the different chemical elements something is made from. Another gives information on stress and strain that have affected the specimen. This can be used in geology and chemistry for identifying minerals and chemicals, and also in engineering for looking at how different metals perform under stress.

Housed in a new facility called the Aberdeen Centre for Electron Microscopy, Analysis and Characterisation (ACEMAC), the microscope is supported by technicians who are highly skilled in both physical science applications, including geosciences, engineering and chemistry, as well as the biosciences and biomedical research.

As a teaching resource, it is possible to transmit live scans remotely to lecture theatres, allowing students a fully interactive experience.

There are a number of events and workshops to coincide with the facility’s opening:

  • A live Scanning Electron Microscope demonstration in Macrobert Lecture Theatre between 2pm and 4pm (February 15), and 11am and 12pm on February 16
  • Demonstration of the Zeiss Digital Microscopy Classroom at the back of Meston 122 all day Feb 15-16, and continuing into next week. Feedback on this approach for the University from staff and students would be welcome.
  • An opportunity for researchers to discuss best approaches for their samples with microscopy and analysis technicians in Meston 028A (new ACEMAC SEM Lab in the basement of the Meston Building) on February 16 (9 am-10.45 am).

Dr Alex Brasier, a lecturer in Geology, says: “This is a fantastic, University-wide Core Facility, open to all across the University and to external academic and industrial customers.

“It is not specific to any particular subject or discipline and will be of as much use to geologists, chemists and engineers as those in medical sciences. Users will include Geoscientists who are interested in rocks and the environments in which they form, as well as how they deform under high pressures and temperatures. Engineers interested in metals and metal corrosion will also find it useful as will medical scientists interested in fungal infections and bone diseases.

“For teaching, the University maximises uses of the ability to control the electron microscope remotely by projecting live images on screens in the lecture theatres. Controlling the instrument directly from lecture theatre lecterns enables classes of tens to hundreds of students to be taught about the uses of an electron microscope in an interactive way, as if they were all down at the controls in a one-to-one situation.”

Applications from businesses interested in accessing the facility are welcome - contact