** Update 2: We've added new info on the unsung champions (pun intended, see below) who gave mankind's first image of the atom **
** Update 1: We've been live for 1 day and are already adding new supporter rewards! Including the 'Gold' prize of determining your own research project with the new instrument **
Optical microscopes magnify x1,000. Atom microscopes magnify x1,000,000. Building a biomedical atom microscope would revolutionize health research.
National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI)
"...ideas were raised about analogous 'technological leaps'... if they could be achieved, they would revolutionize biomedical research and clinical practice."
F.S. Collins et al., Nature, Vol. 422, No. 6934, 2003
In 2006, a supercomputer took 100 days to map 1 million atoms in the first simulation of a life form.
Today, using an atom microscope, mapping 1 million atoms takes 5 minutes.
Being a relatively new instrument, atom microscopes are presently built to map atoms of high-tech alloys and semi-conductors - they aren't designed for biological materials. These microscopes are being used every day to discover new atomic structures and solve technology problems, but only for inorganic materials.
In recognising the many incredible possibilites of this technology for fundamentally advancing medical research, I'm sure you'll agree that the atom microscope is not yet realising its potential!
Microscope inventions are not sexy or celebrated, nor are they well-funded, but they underpin scientific revolutions! Only 200 years ago medical doctors didn't wash their hands and the new theory of tiny 'germs' was ridiculed. Its hard to believe in something you can’t see, huh? A pioneer of this era is widely regarded as ‘the father of microbiology’; he was Dutch microscope builder Antonie van Leeuwenhoek.
An example application:
Proteins are the nanometre sized machines that control virtually all of the molecular functions for life -
They serve as cleaners, builders, motors, messengers, and transporters in our cells. Each protein has a unique sequence of amino acids, which is encoded by a segment of DNA (called a gene). A protein will fold into a unique and often complex three dimensional conformation which determines the function.
We understand only a fraction of how proteins operate and how they control human health - this is because we simply struggle to see them! An atom microscope would enable researchers to directly image, in full 3D, the atomic structure of proteins for the first time.
How you can get involved
Why? Across the globe science funding is facing a crisis:
"Science in America: Crisis Looming, Physicists Warn" - Huffington Post
"NIH Research Funding Faces ‘Unprecedented Threat’" - American Association for Cancer Research
"Scientists stage mock funeral outside parliament in funding protest" - The Guardian
"Funding freeze halts research" - Sydney Morning Herald
You can be part of this exciting research and make it happen! We are university academics running a national research facility for advanced microscopy & microanalysis - we are passionate about excellence in microscopy and science communication. Crowd funding is awesome for supporting projects that people think matter. These science / technology projects are inspirational:
$1.3 million raised to build a museum for science pioneer Nicola Tesla
$10.2 million raised to build an e-paper watch
We have set stretch goals: from 50k to initiate work, up to 850k to commence the full project. Pledging just $1 will help build momentum. Tell your friends!
There's more info below, but to support this exciting project now, please see our pledge rewards and click 'Contribute'! Thankyou!
"It is interesting to speculate about potential revolutionary technical developments that might enhance research and clinical applications in a fashion that would rewrite entire approaches to biomedicine."
F.S. Collins et al,Nature, Vol. 422, No. 6934, 2003
Q: How do atom microscopes lead to discoveries?
A: Let us show you through interpretive dance!
Winner of Science magazines 'Dance Your Ph.D.' competition! It will be premiered at TEDx Brussels.
1955: Man's first image of the atom
Did you know: the pioneers of man’s first image of the atom didn’t get a Nobel prize?
The earliest version of today’s atom microscope (pictured above) gave man’s first image of the atom. The year was 1955 and the atom was widely regarded as being too small to ever image. At Penn State University, Ph.D. student Kanwar Bahadur (left) and supervisor Prof. Erwin Muller (right) had just completed their newly designed field-ion microscope. The resulting magnification was x1,000,000! This is literally a thousand times better than an optical microscope.
Unsure whether to contribute? Do it for Muller! Wikipedia doesn't even have a picture on his profile!
Still unsure!? Do it for Kanwar! This Indian PhD student discovered the final step needed to achieve atomic resolution AND has Freddie Murcury's good looks.
He was THE FIRST MAN to see the atom and he doesn't even have a wikipedia page.
Perhaps one day these pioneers will be recognised and celebrated for their achievements.
Common names for modern atom microscopes are: atom probe microscopy, atom probe tomography, atom probe field-ion microscopy and 3D atom probe. How do atom microscopes work and what are some example publications? Please see the following:
The future of atom probe tomography
Miller, M.K., Kelly, T.F., Rajan, K., Ringer, S.P.
Materials Today, Vol. 15, Iss. 4, pp. 158–165, 2012
Nanoscale chemical tomography of buried organic–inorganic interfaces in the chiton tooth
L. M. Gordon and D. Joester.
Nature 469 (7329), pp. 194-197, 2011
Nanostructural hierarchy increases the strength of aluminium alloys
Liddicoat, P.V., Liao, X.Z., Zhao, Y., Zhu, Y.T., Murashkin, M. Y., Lavernia, E. J., Valiev, R. Z., Ringer, S.P.
Nature Communications, Vol 1, Issue 6, pp. 63-69, 2010
Direct measurement of dopant distribution in an individual vapour-liquid-solid nanowire
Perea, DE; Hernesath, ER; Schwalbach, EJ; Lensch-Falk, JL; Voorhees, PW; Lauhon, LJ.
Nature Nanotechnology, Vol 4 , Iss 5, pp. 315 - 319, 2009
The Atom Microscope team
The project will be led by Prof. Simon Ringer, A/Prof. Filip Braet, and Dr. Peter Liddicoat. Combining skills and expertise (see profiles for journal & book publications) in atom microscopy and biomedical research, the teams experience also includes: leadership in running a national research facility, diverse international collaborations, and science communication with the wider community.
The project team collaborates widely with respected international experts and pioneers in microscopy and biomedical science; such as:
Dr. Thomas Kelly, Division Vice President for Atom Probe Technology and Operations, Cameca Instruments
Prof. Eddie Wisse, Department of Pathology, Maastricht University Medical Centre, The Netherlands
Dr. Michael Moody, Department of Materials, University of Oxford
Prof. Tomokazu Matsuura, Department of Laboratory Medicine, Jikei University School of Medicine, Japan
Dr. Dave Larson, Director of Atom Probe Technology, Cameca Instruments
Prof. Dar-Bin Shieh, Institute of Oral Medicine and Department of Stomatology, National Cheng Kung University, Taiwan
A/Prof. Batiste Gault, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, McMaster University
The Biomedical Atom Microscope
Three key features will be combined to build the first biology focussed atom microscope: specimen cryo-transfer, laser assisted imaging, and bio-informatics data processing. The technologies for each feature have been successfully employed in different forms in a variety of instruments. There are, of course, multiple approaches available to integrating the technologies that would be explored and optimised through the project.
Atom microscopes have already demonstrated an existing capacity, albeit limited, for biological analysis. In 2011, Gordon et al. published in Nature a study upon the nanoscale chemical tomography of buried organic–inorganic interfaces in the chiton tooth. This is an example of a ‘hard’ biological material study, the critical next step is to configure the atom microscope so that it can study nanoscale ‘soft’ materials – proteins, viruses, antibodies etc.
Research in the cloud
A 21st century microscope is not a stand-alone instrument, rather, it requires orchestration of advanced imaging technologies, data storage facilities, and specialised data processing engines. As part of the NeCTAR (National eResearch Collaboration Tool and Resources) we are currently building an atom microscope workbench. The workbench will be accessible from anywhere as a research cloud. The workbench will contain characterisation tools optimised for performance, publication quality figures, and the user-experience – including a developer platform to add new tools. The virtual lab will be hosted on existing high-performance computing infrastructure and available internationally.