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PNNL Workshop Gathers International Experts to Forecast the Future of Electron Microscopy

Participants representing five countries discuss the field's science and technology needs and share ideas

December 2018
PNNL Workshop Gathers International Experts to Forecast the Future of Electron Microscopy

Approximately 60 participants, including many experts in the electron microscopy field, gathered at PNNL’s Discovery Hall for the NexTEM workshop.

The inaugural Next-Generation Transmission Electron Microscopy (NexTEM) workshop, held Oct. 8-10 in PNNL’s Discovery Hall, attracted a group of world-renowned experts to consider the future of electron microscopy. The event identified the key developments needed to advance electron microscopy and highlighted PNNL’s role in defining next-generation materials characterization.

“I think the workshop was highly successful as both a showcase and a collaborative gathering,” says PNNL’s Steven Spurgeon, NexTEM co-organizer. He explains the event has established a blueprint for the future of electron microscopy, which will provide direction for both PNNL’s efforts and broader agency investments. The meeting attracted approximately 60 participants from PNNL and other national laboratories, universities and industry.

“One of our key deliverables was to get microscopy leaders in the same room for breakout sessions to develop ideas and a vision for advancing the field,” Spurgeon says. In addition to these discussions, NexTEM featured a wide range of presentations, tours of PNNL microscopy facilities, and visits to the Hanford B-Reactor and the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO).

Participants Identify Technical Needs

Spurgeon believes two key themes emerged from the meeting. First, there’s a need for advanced algorithms and data analytics methods to sift through mountains of data that are being generated by electron microscopes. “We’ve got these amazing tools, but it’s really difficult right now to process the data, and a lot of that is done manually,” Spurgeon says, adding, “PNNL has made investments in advanced computing over the past few years, and the Laboratory can deliver impactful contributions toward development of new data analytics approaches.”

A second theme emerged regarding a need for new imaging approaches to acquire more realistic and representative datasets. Such techniques would use the electron beam to image large volumes of materials without damaging the materials or changing their structures. He notes that he and other PNNL scientists, such as Libor Kovarik and Chongmin Wang, have been making progress in this area.

“I would say the overarching theme of the workshop could be summarized as ‘intelligent microscopy,’ and I think it’s clear that PNNL can make a strong contribution in this area, which is really encouraging,” Spurgeon says.

Continuing the Progress

The next step is to gather the information collected during the workshop, develop a perspectives article for a high-impact journal, and keep the subject matter visible with the microscopy community. This objective will be furthered when Spurgeon organizes a similar workshop in August 2019 at the Microscopy Society of America (MSA) annual Microscopy and Microanalysis Conference, which will be held in Portland, OR. The MSA learned about the PNNL workshop and asked Spurgeon to organize a similar event as a pre-meeting congress prior to the main meeting.

The idea for NexTEM originated about 18 months ago. Spurgeon secured PNNL funding to make the event happen and was joined in organizing it by Mitra Taheri of Drexel University.

Spurgeon is a materials scientist and his work at PNNL includes leading a Nuclear Process Science Initiative project on high-resolution studies of radiation damage in oxides.

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