News Archive


Farewell Electron Microscope Unit – Welcome Australian Centre for Microscopy & Microanalysis (ACMM)
Name dropping 2010 banner

Fifty-two years after its inception, the Electron Microscope Unit is changing its name to the Australian Centre for Microscopy & Microanalysis, reflecting its growth from two staff and one microscope to some 50 staff, over 20 PhD students, and about 30 major instruments.

The University of Sydney established the Electron Microscope Unit (EMU) in 1958 as the first centralised electron microscopy, or 'EM', service laboratory in an Australian university. The university’s aim, which was unique at the time, was to provide a high-end electron microscope and a dedicated electron microscopist as a centralised service that would be available to support research of academics and students from any department or faculty1.

This important milestone for Sydney demonstrated its recognition that electron microscopy was increasingly needed do research in a host of disciplines, particularly in the life sciences, in the 1950s. While the techniques and instruments of EM have advanced substantially since then, the need for high-end microscopes hasn’t changed. If anything, the growth in the EMU from its relatively humble beginnings in 1958 to today’s massive enterprise reflects just how integral structural characterisation has become to modern scientific endeavour. The unit’s growth also illustrates how other forms of microscopy and microanalysis have become equally critical to Sydney’s research during the last half a century. Today, only one-third of the unit’s instruments are electron microscopes of different kinds, including transmission and scanning instruments, while the remaining two-thirds include a variety of light and confocal microscopes, atom probes, scanning probe microscopes, X-ray diffractometers and systems for doing X-ray tomography at the microscale and nanoscale. Among these many instruments are some truly world-leading facilities that are unique in Australia, particularly the twin Imago local-electrode atom probes (LEAPs), which allow 3-D imaging of all the atoms that make up materials, and the recently arrived XRadia nanoXCT, which allows non-destructive 3-D imaging of samples with a resolution of 50 nm and so complements the amazing structural insights users have been getting from micrometre-scale tomography thanks to its older siblings.

These diverse research platforms support a user community of more than of 350 researchers each year, spanning disciplines from archaeology to biology, from chemistry to engineering, and from medicine to physics. While the majority of our users are staff and students of the University of Sydney, the unit is significant facility for other institutions, for publically funded research agencies, for industry and for international users.

Given that the EMU does so much more than just electron microscopy these days, the University of Sydney has decided that it is timely, especially in view of its own rebranding project, for the unit to have a title that more accurately encapsulates what it does. So, as of 6 April 2010, the EMU will become the Australian Centre for Microscopy & Microanalysis. This name reflects the national leadership of the centre in major forms of microscopy and microanalysis and also the scale and reach of the centre’s activities. The centre’s leadership is exemplified by its role as the headquarters of the NCRIS-funded Australian Microscopy & Microanalysis Research Facility (AMMRF). Another example is the centre’s leadership of a current Australian bid to host the 2014 International Microscopy Congress, the 'Olympics' of global microscopy conferences. Finally, the name change will help simplify the entities around the centre, as it will see the disappearance of the Australian Key Centre for Microscopy and Microanalysis, an ARC Key Centre that was funded from 1995 until 2000, and that has been the research and training arm of the EMU since then.

Changing the EMU’s name to the Australian Centre for Microscopy & Microanalysis, or ACMM, doesn’t change our core mission – nothing else changes on April 6. The centre will continue its commitment to research services, meeting the needs of users by providing the latest in microscopy and microanalysis instruments, supported by highly-trained technical staff. It will continue to provide high-quality research training, offering practical and theoretical training in microscopy and microanalysis to users and to the postgraduate-coursework students of the centre. It will also maintain its research programs, the local research projects led by the centre’s academics who seek to push boundaries of what can be done with advanced microscopes, thereby enabling the research of the user community more broadly.

As it has done for the last 52 years under its previous name, the Australian Centre for Microscopy & Microanalysis looks forward to continuing to work with users to support the research excellence of the University of Sydney by providing the best instruments and expertise to users, and through continuing to move into new fields of microscopy that will be critical for new and emerging fields at Sydney, and beyond.

1 K.R. Ratinac (editor), 50 Great Moments: Celebrating the Golden Jubilee of the University of Sydney’s Electron Microscope Unit, Sydney University Press, Sydney, 2008.

Going 3-D with nano-CT: Australia's first X-ray nanotomography instrument has been installed
Dennis Dwarte giving an introduction to the new MicroXCT

In late November 2009, the Unit took delivery of two new Xradia high-resolution 3-D tomography X-ray systems: a MicroXCT (MicroXCT-400) and Australia’s first NanoXCT (NanoXCT-100). The acquisition of these instruments was made possible through ARC LIEF funding, awarded for 2009, as well as generous contributions from the universities of Sydney, NSW and Wollongong.

Weighing in at a hefty 2,500 kg and standing nearly two metres high and long, the new instruments are a little larger and heavier than the unit’s existing, and highly popular, X-ray microtomography system, the SkyScan 1172, which is a desktop instrument. Indeed, their size and weight made the instruments quite challenging to install – they only just fitted down the corridor and the door to their new home had already had to be substantially widened to allow passage of the instruments. Nevertheless, the perilous journey along a basement corridor of the Madsen Building went off without incident, and the two systems are now undergoing
acceptance testing and run-in to ensure that they meet their design specifications.

The MicroXCT can non-destructively scan samples up to 200 mm in size and has already achieved a resolution of 1.1 µm in our laboratory. It is suitable for full 3-D characterisation of a plethora of samples including bone, teeth and other dental materials, polymers, biomedical samples and biological tissues, semiconductors, and other advanced materials. In most instances, samples require minimal preparation and can be scanned in either absorption or phase-contrast modes. The latter imaging mode greatly improves image contrast for samples with low atomic number and should enhance our ability to scan biological specimens. Scan times are somewhat longer than those of our original MicroCT platform (Skyscan 1172), but the data quality and resolution are better.

The NanoXCT is a more specialised instrument and can scan small samples with a resolution down to 50 nm. It can non-destructively obtain 3-D information from internal structures at two volumes: 64 µm3, at which it has a resolution of 150 nm; or 16 µm3, at which it has a resolution of 50 nm. This high-resolution scanning comes courtesy of its unique X-ray optics, which are based on zone plates and capillaries (optical arrays). Like its microscale-resolution sibling, the NanoXCT can image in absorption mode as well as in phase-contrast mode, although the scanning times must be considerably longer to achieve the nanoscale resolution.

The Xradia MicroXCT is expected to become available for use around the end of March and the NanoXCT a little later in the year. Interested potential users should contact Allan Jones or Dennis Dwarte for details.


Fidel Castro, Jr. visits to talk science
Dr Filel Castro Diaz-Balarat

On Tuesday 20 October 2009, Dr Fidel Castro Diaz-Balart, Scientific Advisor of the State Council of Cuba, visited the EMU as part of a Cuban delegation’s visit to the University of Sydney. As his name suggests, Dr Castro is the eldest son of Fidel Castro, the former prime minister and later president of Cuba for decades. He and the rest of the Cuban delegation were here to examine Australia’s research in the fields of biotechnology, nanotechnology, and nuclear science, looking for opportunities for collaboration and exchange of ideas.

As part of his visit to Sydney, Dr Castro was eager to see the facilities and hear about the research done in, and by, the EMU. His curiosity was rewarded with a detailed tour of the some of the unit's major instruments and laboratories, led by EMU Director Prof. Simon Ringer. This was followed by a discussion of what the unit does, how it works, and its leadership role as headquarters of the Australian Microscopy & Microanalysis Research Facility (AMMRF). As a scientific advisor, Dr Castro was particularly interested to learn about the innovative mechanisms, such as NCRIS, the federal government has put in place in recent years to fund major research infrastructure in Australia.

During the visit to Sydney, the delegation also spent time with DVC (International) Prof. John Hearn and DVC (Research) Prof. Jill Trewhella. The visit was part of a program coordinated by the Commonwealth Government's Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research.

Dr Castro has an extensive scientific and research background. He received a masters in nuclear physics and a PhD in physical-mathematical sciences from Russian institutions during the 1970s, and did postdoctoral research in nuclear-power generation at the I. V. Kurchatov Atomic Energy lnstitute in Moscow. In later years, he also undertook a masters in strategic planning and higher management and he was awarded a doctor of sciences in 2000. Dr Castro has received several prizes and distinctions during his career and is a member of the Cuban Academy of Sciences and the Ibero-Latin American Association of Technological Innovation, among others. He has more than 150 scientific publications and 10 books.

Instrument donation boosts AMMRF mineral analysis capability
Qemscan automated mineral analysis system

11 March 2009, Sydney
BHP Billiton has generously donated a Qemscan automated mineral analysis system to the Australian Key Centre for Microscopy and Microanalysis, the University of Sydney node of the AMMRF. This donation makes a very valuable instrument available to the entire Australian research community, significantly increasing the AMMRF’s capability in the area of mineral analysis. As with all AMMRF instrumentation, the Qemscan will be available to researchers in universities, research labs and industry.

The Australian Key Centre for Microscopy and Microanalysis has built up a close working partnership with BHP Billiton over a number of years based on collaborative research and provision of testing services. Such a donation not only facilitates further valuable linkages with BHP Billiton and other industry partners, but also supports top-quality Australian research.

The Qemscan is an automated mineral analysis system based on a Zeiss EVO 50 scanning electron microscope. Four EDS detectors are used simultaneously to rapidly determine the mineral phases in a polished section of rock. Sophisticated software differentiates the mineral from the mounting resin so that analysis time is devoted only to the rock itself. The results are visually presented in colour-coded mineral maps, which are readily interpreted by mineralogists and process metallurgists. With the four EDS detectors, the instrument can analyse up to 200 points per second, making it a serious tool for improving productivity in the analysis of rocks in geoscience research and the mining industry. It will be an absolute boon to anyone in these fields.

As well as the specialised mineral-analysis functions, the Qemscan is also a very high quality scanning electron microscope in its own right. The Qemscan system was developed by Intellection, a Brisbane based spin-off of CSIRO that was recently acquired by FEI.

As well as the newly donated instrument at the University of Sydney, a Qemscan is also available to Australian researchers at the Ian Wark Research Institute at the University of South Australia, part of the SA node of the AMMRF.

For usage enquiries at the Key Centre please contact , ph. 02 9114 0566.


Minister launches the commemorative symposium 'Excellence in Microscopy'
Excellence in Microscopy Opening Address

03 December 2008, Sydney
Minister for Science and Medical Research Jodi McKay today congratulated the University of Sydney's Electron Microscope Unit (EMU) on its 50th year of operations. Speaking at the launch of an Excellence in Microscopy symposium to mark the 2008 Golden Jubilee anniversary, Ms McKay said the EMU has made major contributions to research, education and innovation over its half century.

Image: At the official opening of 'Excellence in Microscopy'. From left, Prof. Simon Ringer, The Hon. Jodi McKay MP, Prof. Merlin Crossley, and Dr Julie Cairney.


Minister launches the Australian Microscopy & Microanalysis Research Facility
The Hon Julie Bishop

27 September 2007
The Australian Microscopy & Microanalysis Research Facility (AMMRF), a $41 million national research facility to provide cutting-edge microscopy and microanalysis capability to all Australian researchers, was launched by the Federal Minister for Education, Science and Training, the Hon Julie Bishop MP, at the University of Sydney today.
Read full article on AMMRF website

Image: Celebrating a milestone – The Federal Minister for Education, Science and Training, the Hon Julie Bishop MP, with Prof. Simon Ringer (left) and Dr Greg Smith, Chairman of the AMMRF (right), at the Official Launch of the facility in September 2007.

New TEM facilities upgrades
JEOL F3000

October 2007
We are pleased to announce some new major installations and upgrades on two of our TEMs. Firstly, the commissioning and installation of a new Gatan Orius 11 Megapixel camera on the JEOL 3000F. It is believed to be the first installation of this type on a 300kv FEGTEM, and this is a significant improvement in the image recording facilities for this microscope. Offering a resolution of 4008 x 2672 pixels, each 9 µm in size, it has resolutions very close to film, so this will greatly reduce the need for the latter on this microscope. The camera also has a frame rate above 14fps (close to TV rate) allowing easy movement and positioning without the need for a TV system. Additionally, there is the potential for digital video streaming, which we are looking forward to enabling in the future.

Another addition to the JEOL 3000F is a new cooling strain holder, purchased in collaboration with Dr Xiaozhou Liao from the School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering. This new holder, also from Gatan, will open up many exciting possibilities in materials research like deformation mechanisms in metal or polymers, or strain induced diffusion etc., while keeping the specimen cooled at temperatures as low as -170°C.

Last but not least, our CM120 Biofilter TEM has just received an upgrade of its GIF operating system, which is now based on a PC. This results in dramatically improved functionality and usability of this system.

For more information please contact .

New NSOM arrived

July 2007
A Ntegra near-field scanning optical microscope (NSOM) has been installed at the EMU, and is now available for booking.

NSOM is a scanned probe technique in which a very small light source is scanned very close to a sample’s surface. Light photons pass through a sub-wavelength-diameter aperture, by quantum effects, and illuminate a nearby sample; for this technique to work, the probe must be placed within the near-field region of the surface, which is a distance much less than the wavelength of light. By the use of the sub-wavelength aperture in the near-field region, the achievable resolution is far better than the one attainable in conventional optical microscopes, which is limited by the wavelength of light. The NSOM method is particularly useful to nanotechnologists, such as physicists, materials scientists, chemists and biologists, who require ultra-high resolution and spatial information from a broad range of materials.

This NSOM combines the high topographic resolution of techniques such as AFM with the significant temporal resolution, polarisation characteristics, spectroscopic capabilities, sensitivity, and flexibility inherent in many forms of optical microscopy. But the real power of this technique is, that the two separate data sets – optical and topographical – can be compared to determine the correlation between the physical structures and the optical contrast of the specimen.