New EU project ‘ONEM’ develops a unique hybrid imaging technique

Friday, 19 February, 2021
The Low Energy Electron Microscope at Leiden University
The ONEM project will develop a new non-invasive microscopy technique for imaging dynamic processes at interfaces, called Optical Near-field Electron Microscopy.

The project is conducted by research groups from Leiden University, the J. Heyrovský Institute of Physical Chemistry, and the University of Vienna. The programme, which has a budget of 3.7M€ and will last 48 months, is coordinated by the physicist Thomas Juffmann (University of Vienna). ONEM is one of only two proposals that succeeded in the topic Measuring the Unmeasurable of the call from the European Innovation Council called ‘FET Proactive: Emerging Paradigms and Communities (FETPROACT-EIC-07-2020)’.

Imaging the dynamics at interfaces is of great importance throughout science and technology. ONEM aspires to build a microscope that can image these dynamics on the nanoscale without damaging the specimen.” says Thomas Juffmann. “It will extend the toolbox of biologists and material scientists and will give new insights into processes like corrosion, battery charging, or protein aggregation in lipid bilayers,” he continues.

The ONEM project aims to establish a worldwide unique imaging technology in Europe: optical near-field electron microscopy. The new hybrid imaging technique will be complementary to the state-of-art techniques currently in use to provide nanoscale imaging, such as super-resolution microscopy, atomic force microscopy or cryo-electron microscopy.

We envisage a technique that combines the non-invasiveness of probing with light with the spatial resolution offered by electron optics,” explains Sense Jan van der Molen (Leiden University). “The technique can be realized by combining low energy electron microscopy, ultrathin high efficiency photocathodes, and liquid cell technology,” he adds.

The team will build the first ONEM prototype and demonstrate the new technique in proof-of-principle studies in plasmonics, electrochemistry, and molecular biology.

We would love to watch the dynamics of proteins within lipid bilayers. If ONEM allows us to do so at high resolution and over extended periods, then this would open doors to many investigations in molecular cell biology such as following the formation of functional supramolecular protein complexes of relevance in pathology of disease.” says Mariana Amaro  (J. Heyrovský Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Czech Academy of Sciences).

In order to facilitate rapid commercialization of Optical Near-field Electron Microscopy, ONEM will collaborate closely with industrial partners (SPECS GmbH, RMD Inc.). The collaboration just had its kick-off event, and is taking first steps towards realizing this new concept for damage-free nanoscale imaging. You can find more information on the project website.


Background information

FET-Open and FET Proactive are now part of the Enhanced European Innovation Council (EIC) Pilot (specifically the Pathfinder), the new home for deep-tech research and innovation in Horizon 2020, the EU funding programme for research and innovation.