Leading scientists say that the drive for more compact computer processors is pushing engineers to the limit, with some connections now only a few atoms wide.
The £2.65 million MagTEM microscope, unveiled today at Glasgow University’s Kelvin Nanocharacterisation Centre, will allow scientists to scrutinise individual atoms and probe their chemical, magnetic and electronic properties with unprecedented detail.
Professor Alan Craven, of the university’s school of physics and astronomy, said: “The advances made in the field of electronic engineering in the last few decades have been staggering.
“The smartphones in our pockets are millions of times faster than the bulky desktop computers of only a few years ago, for example.
“However, the drive to make devices smaller and faster has led manufacturers to push their technical abilities to the absolute limits.
“As the scale of engineering decreases to where connections can be a handful of atoms wide, the need for advanced microscopy becomes more urgent to facilitate understanding of why a material or device succeeds or fails.”
The microscope could also lead to breakthroughs in “spintronics”, where data could be stored in values of 0 to 3 rather than the increasingly limited 0 and 1 binary code that has been used since the earliest computers.