To be sure, light-based microscopes are among several different types of microscopes in use. Experts sometimes classify microscopes by the source they use to interact with samples to produce images, such as light, a scanning probe, or electrons.
An electron microscope, for example, uses a beam of electrons as its energy source, which has an exceptionally short wave length—about 100,000 times shorter than visible light - and, as a result, at present, provides significantly better resolution. But there are significant differences between electron microscopes and the new types of extreme UV/soft X-ray microscopes currently under development at the center.
In fact, imaging with light and with electrons are complementary technologies rather than competing technologies, Rocca says. “Both have a role to play,” he says. “For example, to use electron microscopy, the samples need to be electrically conductive, and if they are not, they need to be coated with a thin metal layer to make them so.”
Light microscopes, on the other hand, can image both conductive and insulating samples without the need of a coating. “Also, electron beams cannot be used to image samples that are subject to strong electric or magnetic fields or thick samples,” he says. “In contrast, electromagnetic radiation is not affected by electromagnetic fields. In summary, each might have advantages and disadvantages depending on the application--in other words, they are complementary techniques.”
The extreme UV microscopes developed by center scientists “can currently image nanostructures with 20 nanometer resolution and make movies of nanomachines in action,” Rocca says.
Moreover, “in the future, powerful new microscopes that can image the nanoworld with less than ten nanometer spatial resolution, and that even can capture the fleeting motions of electrons, will be possible,” he adds.
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