Large STW grant for research into nanoscopy (prof. Henny Zandbergen, Delft, Kavli/QN)


The STW Technology Foundation and the business community have awarded 2.8 million euros to the Understanding Processes Using Operando Nanoscopy (UPON) research program. This program focuses on using electron microscopy to study material properties more accurately at the atomic level.

The properties of high-strength alloys, nano and hybrid materials, and biological 'systems', for example, are determined by processes that occur on a very small scale in the nanostructure. It is therefore quite common for researchers to study materials on the nano scale, especially with the use of electron microscopy (EM).

Unfortunately, the use of electron microscopy is not always possible in all situations. For example, a vacuum is required to create a good image using EM. Most materials are applied and formed under very different conditions, however. The development of a method for studying materials with EM under realistic conditions - in a gas or liquid, while heated, under (changing) pressure or in an electrical field - is therefore a major challenge for researchers. This is called Operando Nanoscopy (ON)

ON can be achieved with the use of so-called nanoreactors. These extremely small reactors contain a sample of the material that will be studied, which is located between two membranes. The material can be manipulated in the reactors, allowing EM images to be made. The goal of the UPON programme is the development of better nanoreactors with new functions, such as electrical fields. This enables researchers to conduct nanoscopic experiments for the purpose of determining the connections between the nanostructure and the properties of materials in a much more controlled and therefore more efficient manner. Special attention is also paid to the development of better membranes for the nanoreactors. As an ultra-thin membrane, the material graphene is a possible option. 

Global top
Operando Nanoscopy
is considered the most important next step in microscopy. ON is expected to provide valuable information in many areas, such as the effect of medicines at the cellular level, the prevention of corrosion, new battery materials and air pollution with nanoparticles. 

TU Delft belongs to the absolute global top with regard to research in the field of ON. For this reason, the university leads the five-year research programme (with a budget of 2.8 million euros). TU Delft will collaborate with the universities of Utrecht and Maastricht, as well as the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO) and the business community: Phenom-World, DENSsolutions, AkzoNobel, DSM, Everest Coatings, Maastricht Instruments and Leiden Probe Microscopy.

The STW Technology Foundation awarded UPON within the framework of the so-called Perspective Programmes. Scientists in this program will work with a consortium of companies on specific scientific themes that involve the further development of a technology. STW received a total of 41 research initiatives and awarded grants to six of them.

For more information, please read the STW press release (only in Dutch).

(source: TU Delft communication)