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PICO - Unique Electron Microscope Inaugurated

1. Februar 2012


A unique electron microscope was inaugurated at ER-C on 29 February 2012. The device referred to as PICO has a record resolution of fifty billionths of a millimetre. It will allow users from science and industry to study atomic structures with the highest precision possible and to achieve progress in areas such as energy research and information technology. With PICO, the operators of the centre, RWTH Aachen University and Forschungszentrum Jülich, continue to strengthen their position at the forefront of ultrahigh-resolution electron microscopy. Funding of about EUR 15 million for the microscope, other scientific devices and a new building was provided by the German federal government and the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the Helmholtz Association.

The arrangement of atoms in a material is a key factor determining its electric, mechanical and thermal properties, i.e. the purposes for which materials and nanocomponents can be used and their performance. Scientists need insights into the world of atoms and the processes that take place there that are as precise as possible in order to specifically intervene and in so doing, develop new materials, for example. With PICO (Advanced Picometre Resolution Project), the scientists at the Ernst Ruska-Centre and external users can now advance further into the nanoworld to the physical limits of optics. PICO is the first transmission electron microscope at ER-C with a resolution of up to fifty picometres.


PICO is one of currently two devices worldwide capable of correcting a lens error known as chromatic abberation, which could not be avoided in electron optics before now. In addition to improving the resolution, this also increases the precision in measuring atomic distances and atomic displacement, from five picometres to merely one. PICO is based on aberration-corrected electron optics, which was developed in the 1990s by scientists of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, Technische Universität Darmstadt and Forschungszentrum Jülich. The scientists at ER-C are also developing sophisticated computer methods that will make it possible to fully exploit the capacity of modern electron microscopes.

Forschungszentrum Jülich and RWTH Aachen University have been operating ER-C - a centre of excellence for atomic-resolution electron microscopy and spectroscopy on the highest international level - since 2004. ER-C develops scientific and technical infrastructure and methods for materials research for today and tomorrow, and is simultaneously the first national user centre for ultrahigh-resolution electron microscopy. It represents a partner for the electron optics industry, which markets ER-C products under licence, and it is a leading international institution in the field of research in the subnanometre range. ER-C provides researchers from science and industry with access to the most powerful electron microscopes currently available and guarantees competent assistance.

Further reading:

Jülich Aachen Research Alliance Press Release of 29 February 2012