October 20, 2008


McMaster unveils world's most advanced microscope
So powerful it can probe the spaces between atoms

Hamilton, ON. Oct. 20, 2008 – The most advanced and powerful electron microscope on the planet—capable of unprecedented resolution—has been installed in the new Canadian Centre for Electron Microscopy at McMaster University.

“We are the first university in the world with a microscope of such a high calibre,” says Gianluigi Botton, director of the Canadian Centre for Electron Microscopy, professor of  Materials Science and Engineering, and the project’s leader. “The resolution of the Titan 80-300 Cubed  microscope is remarkable, the equivalent of the Hubble Telescope looking at the atomic level instead of at stars and galaxies. With this microscope we can now easily identify atoms, measure their chemical state and even probe the electrons that bind them together.” 

Because we are at the very limits of what physics allows us to see, —“even breathing close to a regular microscope could affect the quality of the results,” says Botton—the new microscope is housed in a stable, specially designed facility able to withstand ultralow vibrations, low noise, and minute temperature fluctuations. Operation of the instrument will also be done from a separate room to ensure results of the highest quality.

Built in the Netherlands by the FEI Company at a cost of $15-million, the Titan cluster will examine at the nano level hundreds of everyday products in order to understand, manipulate and improve their efficiency, says John Preston, director of McMaster’s Brockhouse Institute for Materials Research.

The microscope will be used to help produce more efficient lighting and better solar cells, study proteins and drug-delivery materials to target cancers. It will assess atmospheric particulates, and help create lighter and stronger automotive materials, more effective cosmetics, and higher density memory storage for faster electronic and telecommunication devices.

“The addition of the Titan 80-300 Cubed to the Centre’s suite of microscopy instruments that include a Titan cryo-in situ solidifies Ontario’s and Canada’s lead in nanotechnology, and places us among the world’s most advanced materials research institutions,” says Mo Elbestawi, McMaster’s vice-president, Research and International Affairs.

The field of microscopy is undergoing fast and furious change. In the last several months alone, other microscopes have surfaced that will eventually trump the Titan’s ability. Botton says that upgrades for the Titan are already in the works to maintain the microscope’s premier position.

Funding for the microscope instrumentation was provided by the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Ontario Innovation Trust, the Ministry of Research and Innovation of Ontario and the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development and Trade, through a partnership with FEI and McMaster University.

McMaster University, a world-renowned, research-intensive university, fosters a culture of innovation, and a commitment to discovery and learning in teaching, research and scholarship. Based in Hamilton, the University, one of only four Canadian universities to be listed on the Top 100 universities in the world, has a student population of more than 23,000, and an alumni population of more than 135,000 in 128 countries.


Note to media: Jpegs to accompany these cutlines can be obtained by contacting those listed at the bottom of this release.


1) Electron micrograph  of a titanium dioxide crystal from a powder used as white pigment in paints or sunscreen observed  at 5.8-million times magnification (original image) with an electron microscope. The scale bar is 5 nanometers or the equivalent of 1/10,000 of an average human hair. Credit: McMaster University.

2) Electron micrograph of gold nanoparticles and clusters from a dried gold suspension observed at 4.4-million times magnification (original image) with an electron microscope. The scale bar is 5 nanometers or the equivalent of 1/10,000 of an average human hair.  Credit: McMaster University.

3) Electron micrograph of an aluminum alloy sample used for beverage cans observed at 14-million times magnification (original image) with an electron microscope. The scale bar is 1 nanometer of the equivalent of 1/50,000 of an average human hair.  Credit: McMaster University.

For more information, please contact:

Jane Christmas

Manager, Public & Media Relations

McMaster University

905-525-9140 ext. 27988


Michelle Donovan

Public Relations Manager: Broadcast Media

McMaster University

905-525-9140 ext. 22869


Gianluigi Botton

Director, Canadian Centre for Electron Microscopy,

Professor, Materials Science and Engineering

McMaster University

905-525-9140 ext. 24767


John Preston

Director, Brockhouse Institute for Materials Research

McMaster University

905-525-9140 ext. 27294