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Right-click to download the 'Interview with John Hutchison' (11.4 MB MP3)

Delegates at the Congress were spoilt for choice, with three days of talks in parallel symposia, poster sessions and plenaries as well as workshops held in the exhibition hall alongside companies demonstrating the latest state-of-the-art equipment. The symposia focused on four topics – bioimaging, scanning probe microscopy, advanced measurement technology and electron microscopy – while two anniversary lectures were presented by Ernst H K Stelzer and John Hutchison. Selzer spoke about the shifting paradigm in modern light microscopy, while Hutchison’s thoughts on the society’s aims and achievements as it celebrates its anniversary can be heard in the audio clip above.

Sessions

As Hutchison explains in the interview, microscopy began with the observation of biological objects, typified by the close-up view of the flea sketched by Robert Hooke in 1665. Hooke would surely have delighted at the revelations in biological systems offered by microscopy today, such as the lateral molecular force microscope observations presented by Charlotte Bermingham, a PhD student at the University of Bristol in the UK. As Bermingham explained, lateral molecular force microscopy allows greater control over position than optical tweezers, and she has used the technique to reveal a kinesin molecular motor that transports vesicles in cells. Scanning probe microscopes also continue to provide uses beyond imaging, with Ya Hua Chim from Glasgow University in the UK showing how indentation measurements can be used to determine the elasticity of pancreatic cancer cells. Understanding the elasticity and adhesion strength of cells provides insights into their migration and hence the spread of cancer in the body.

Talks on the application of electron microscopy to study energy generation and storage systems also revealed some impressive results. Ju Li from MIT in the US described investigations by his group of reactions between lithium and multiwalled carbon nanotubes, which have been touted as a potential replacement for graphite in lithium ion batteries. However, Li’s studies show that lithium atoms invade the space between the tube walls, straining and ultimately cracking the nanotubes making them brittle. Meanwhile, Eli Napchan from Imperial College London has been studying new sandwich-type structures for betavoltaic batteries. These are batteries that use radioactive beta-emitting materials as sources of energy and, as Napchan pointed out, several companies are already exploiting the technology, including Widetronix and BetaBatt.

Solar power also came into focus, in particular organic photovoltaic systems that have promised much but have yet to deliver. Cornelia Rodenburg at the University of Sheffield listed some of the challenges in studying these systems and how energy-filtered transmission electron microscopy could help, since it provides chemical as well as topological mapping with a resolution of 10 m. She concluded from her studies that a mixed phase was present in addition to the donor and acceptor phases, which may explain why efficiencies of these systems have not met expectations.

Closing talk

Mildred Dresselhaus brought the congress to a close with a plenary talk describing some of the progress in understanding carbon materials – ranging from some of the early studies she had undertaken in the 1960s, which were motivated by potential superconducting properties, to current studies of carbon nanomaterials and graphene. She emphasized techniques that reveal information about material properties as well as topology, such as Raman spectroscopy and how Raman signals can be enhanced. Dresselhaus’s full talk will be available on nanotechweb.org shortly, as part of our seminar series to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Feynman lectures.