Electron ptychography achieves atomic-resolution limits set by lattice vibrations

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Science  21 May 2021:
Vol. 372, Issue 6544, pp. 826-831
DOI: 10.1126/science.abg2533

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Locating atoms with higher precision

Two major problems that limit the resolution and interpretation of electron microscopy images are lens aberrations and multiple scattering. Chen et al. overcame these issues with ptychography, a technique that uses coherent scattering and multiple overlapping illumination spots to reconstruct an image from far-field diffraction patterns. This method works at a resolution that is limited, not by optics, but rather by the scattering strength of the sample, so it can work better with thicker samples. The authors achieved ultimate lateral resolution better than the thermal vibration of atoms in a PrScO3 sample and showed that it is theoretically possible to identify single dopant atoms.

Science, abg2533, this issue p. 826


Transmission electron microscopes use electrons with wavelengths of a few picometers, potentially capable of imaging individual atoms in solids at a resolution ultimately set by the intrinsic size of an atom. However, owing to lens aberrations and multiple scattering of electrons in the sample, the image resolution is reduced by a factor of 3 to 10. By inversely solving the multiple scattering problem and overcoming the electron-probe aberrations using electron ptychography, we demonstrate an instrumental blurring of less than 20 picometers and a linear phase response in thick samples. The measured widths of atomic columns are limited by thermal fluctuations of the atoms. Our method is also capable of locating embedded atomic dopant atoms in all three dimensions with subnanometer precision from only a single projection measurement.

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