UA Researchers Expand Opportunities with Upgraded Atom Probe Technology

From the July 2016 Desktop News A new, powerful microscope recently installed at The University of Alabama will expand exploration into nanotechnology and geological sciences, helping research and spurring economic development.

Earlier this year, UA acquired the newest generation Local Electron Atom Probe, or LEAP. This microscope shows researchers the location and distribution of atoms in materials. Unlike the previous LEAP at UA, the new instrument, the CAMECA LEAP 5000, provides tremendous versatility that reveals a more detailed atomic map of a material with the ability to probe such geological materials as fossils and minerals.

“UA is the first academic institution in the Western Hemisphere to acquire a LEAP 5000, and it keeps UA at the leading edge of nanoscience and nanotechnology,” said Dr. Carl A. Pinkert, vice president for research and economic development. “Elevating our research capabilities with a new instrument will open up international collaborations for our faculty and give our students greater opportunities to work with advanced technology.”

The LEAP 5000 is set up in UA’s Central Analytical Facility, a research lab dedicated to nanoscale characterization, which can study and manipulate materials 1,000 times smaller than a human hair.

“The LEAP 5000 places us at the forefront of materials analysis,” said Dr. David Nikles, director of the Central Analytical Facility and professor of chemistry. “This improved capability will expand the ability of UA research groups to characterize many new and different classes of materials.”

In 2007, UA bought a LEAP 3000 to become the first academic institution in the Southeast — and only the third in the nation — to have the instrument on campus. Since installation, the instrument generated more than $13 million in externally sponsored research.

The new LEAP 5000 allows UA and affiliated researchers to study newer materials the older microscope could not handle without destroying them. In particular, several geological materials can be studied for the first time—including fossilized bones and other organic structures. The device could lead to expansion of research opportunities to such industries as medicine, mining, and energy.

Already, the new atom probe is attracting attention from researchers outside the fields of material science and metallurgical engineering. With sponsorship from the National Science Foundation, Dr. Alberto Perez-Huerta, an associate professor of geological sciences at UA, hosted the first atom probe tomography workshop for earth sciences on campus earlier this year, attracting colleagues from across the world.