In his now-famous 1959 speech on nanotechnology, Richard Feynman proposed that it should be possible to see the individual atoms in a material, if only the electron microscope could be made 100 times better. With the development of aberration correctors on transmission electron microscopes (TEMs) over the last decade, this dream of microscopists to directly image structures atom-by-atom has come close to an everyday reality. Figure 1 shows such a high-resolution transmission electron microscope (HR-TEM) image of a single-wall carbon nanotube obtained with an aberration-corrected TEM. Now that atomic-resolution images have become possible with aberration-corrector technology in both TEM and STEM, we can ask ourselves if we truly have achieved the goal of seeing individual atoms. Most aberration-corrected images exhibiting atomic resolution are not distinguishing individual atoms, but columns of a small number of atoms, so despite this remarkable achievement, there is still “plenty of room at the bottom” in order to move toward seeing, counting, and quantifying individual atoms. In fact, there never has been a more exciting time for electron microscopists.
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