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Published: 10 August 2017  
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Connecting the dots for European materials researchers

The EU-funded ESTEEM2 project is connecting European researchers in Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM) for materials science with state-of-the-art TEM instrumentation, methodology and tools. The result: new insight into the complex materials in everything from optics and electronics to lightweight parts in aircraft.

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In Europe, there is often a disconnect between researchers and access to the technologies and facilities they need to do their research. For example, a university in France may excel in one particular research area, but lack a specific technology needed to take it to the next level. A research facility in Hungary may meanwhile have the necessary technology, but not the specialised scientists to conduct the actual research.

To connect these dots, particularly in the field of advanced Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM) for materials science, projects like ESTEEM2 aim to integrate key facilities and state-of-the-art technologies with scientists and researchers from across Europe. TEMs basically use electrons as the ‘light source’ when investigating matter, and their much lower wavelength means researchers can get a resolution a thousand times better than with a traditional light microscope.

“To accomplish this, we have positioned the project to serve as the European portal for industrial and academic users who need access to state-of-the-art TEM instrumentation, methodology and tools in order to solve complex materials,” explains project coordinator Etienne Snoeck. “At the same time, we’re also looking to optimise the TEM instruments currently available and, where there are gaps in availability, develop new, advanced TEM methods and theories that will further benefit European scientists and companies.”

An array of activities

Since its launch in 2012, ESTEEM2-affiliated facilities and technology have hosted over 370 ‘transnational access’ research projects coming from across Europe – equating to more than 3 550 access days. These research projects covered a wide range of advanced materials whose properties may be relevant for the development of nano- and microelectronics, for transport industries, energy storage, and even the health and pharmaceutical sectors.

The project also includes a set of five ‘networking activities’ aimed at supporting integration between technology users and project partners. These included 13 workshops and programmes attended by 600 students on cutting-edge TEM techniques. The ESTEEM2 website contains tools to help researchers prepare samples, test new models, and access various software components – all freely available online.

Finally, the project also includes five ‘joint research activities’, covering a range of activities helping to further define and learn about the structure and nature of novel nanometre-scale materials, 3D nanometrology, and electron spectroscopy.

Case in point

To illustrate how this all comes together, take for example the International Centre of Electron Microscopy for Material Science at AGH University of Science and Technology in Krakow, Poland – home to an array of basic and applied research projects addressing the problems of electron microscopy in materials science. Meanwhile in Italy, Franco Rustichelli of the Polytechnic University of Marche, who is researching the characteristics of a new material, requires very high spatial resolution to the level of 90 nanometres. Unfortunately, this technology is not available at his university.

Thanks to ESTEEM2, Rustichelli could go to Krakow and use its famous microscope. Without this connection, his research would not have access to one of the world’s most advanced transmission electron microscopes in the world, and would have suffered because of it.

Ongoing contributions

“Although it’s difficult to predict the long-term benefits from the ESTEEM2 project, we are confident it will make substantial contributions to scientific research and have an impact on the economy and society in general,” says Snoeck. “In fact, seven new electron microscopy technologies have already been patented.”

According to Snoeck, ESTEEM2 will ultimately prove to be a game changer for the study of materials science in Europe, especially as it applies to more efficient energy production, lighter and lower-emission transport and new developments in nanoscience.

“Thanks to this project, we’re building an extensive database of TEM related resources that will be available to a new generation of skilled TEM scientists that are gaining valuable experience from ESTEEM2,” he says. “In the end, by facilitating a wider and more efficient access to Europe’s TEM installations, we’re enhancing Europe’s contribution to the characterisation of electronic and optical devices being used worldwide.”

Project details

  • Project acronym: ESTEEM 2
  • Participants: France (Coordinator), UK, Germany, Sweden, Netherlands, Austria, Spain, Slovenia, Poland
  • Project N°: 312483
  • Total costs: € 9 740 682
  • EU contribution: € 7 500 000
  • Duration: October 2012 to September 2016

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