Dec. 10, 2013

Seeing the Invisible - Celebrating 15 Years of the European Microscopy Society

The European Microscopy Society (EMS) is a Europe-wide "umbrella society" including national microscopy societies and individual members, with the aims of fostering scientific exchange between European countries and educating the next generation of microscopists across all fields of applied science.

At the suggestion of former CESEM President Wolfgang Baumeister, the EMS was inaugurated at the ICEM-14 meeting in Cancun in 1998, after the disbanding of the Committee of European Societies of Microscopy (CESM). Before this, when the committee was known as CESEM - the additional E standing for "electron" - its focus was only on electron microscopy. Peter Hawkes (France) was elected the first President of the new EMS. Jose-Maria Carrascosa (Spain) was chosen as Vice-President, Eddie Wisse (Belgium) as secretary and Heinz Gross (Switzerland) as treasurer. More information on the history of CES(E)M and the EMS can be found on the EMS website ( under "EMS Documentation".

In the early days, visualizing individual atoms was still a domain of very specific physical enduring experiments, such as scanning probe microscopy and atom probe analysis on restricted surfaces, on tiny selected areas of only conductive material or by atom column projections by transmission electron microscopy (TEM). During the 1990s, major changes in electron optics, such as brighter and more coherent electron sources, monochromators and mainly, the development of optical correctors - a kind of "correction glasses" for electron microscopes, elevated electron microscopy to an atomic resolving analytical method. Introducing electron microscopy into our research fields allowed measurements in crystals with picometre (pm) precision (pm=10-12 meter - the sub-atomic domain) and analysis of the elemental composition down to only a few atom numbers.

With further improvement of the optical performance, stability, high yield direct electron detectors and spectrometers, in parallel with dedicated sensitive sample preparation, electron microscopy becomes more and more a routine cross-discipline analytical method.

Light microscopy was revolutionized by implementing so-called super-resolution techniques, allowing precision localization down to 40 nm closing the resolution gap between electron and photon microscopy. Allowing fast in vivo measurements with fluorescence, and highest spacial resolution and context information from electron microscopy methods to be combined. In combination with other imaging and microscopy technologies, correlative microscopy will speed up and even enhance the output of material characterizations.

Outstanding European scientists drove most of these improvements in the 1990s. From this burst of technology evolution, many scientific disciplines and industrial applications gained significant new insights into materials or increased their quality control, such as:

Quantum optics - by analysis of quantum dots and quantum wells important for the next generation of computers, lasers and communication tools;
Digital storage technology - by analysis of electromagnetic domains and electron potentials at the atomic level;
Nanoengineering - by analysis of nanorobots and MEMS devices down to single atomic sheet devices (graphene);
Nanotechnology - characterizing natural and man-made atomic and nanometer scale devices;
New intelligent materials - by analysis of biomaterials at the nanometer scale to mimic the design of next generation sustainable materials;
Materials science - characterizing new materials for more sustainable usage of natural resources;
Molecular biology/medicine - by analysis of individual proteins and bio-machines to near atomic resolution to decipher their functions;
System biology - by analysis of the complexity and context of biological tissue and cells in 3D for deciphering nature's mastering of sustainable nanotechnology;
• Creating new prototyping devices on the nanoscale in modern scanning electron dual beam systems;
• Quality control in industry and science, mainly at the scale of atoms to a few nanometers.

These examples clearly point out that modern, state-of-the-art electron microscopy - TEM or STEM, with their different options, e.g. working at the temperature of -190°C or with pulsed electron waves etc. - has become an indispensable analytical cross-technology for all experimental and engineering science fields.

Clearly, some of these fields will depend on developing the next generation of analytical tools for real molecular and atomic imaging across these disciplines. Some of them will start as research projects with an uncertain outcome, as was the case for the corrector project, and will need scientific freedom to develop without realization or market pressure from the beginning. As in other technological fields, and as we've learnt from science history, surprising discoveries - often from unrelated fields - need a few generations to mature to their ultimate applications (e.g. lasers in medicine).

Finding a balance in supporting fundamental research, applied research and industrial development without exposing them in direct competition requires an open-minded discussion culture in our community and with supporting agencies.

A Europe-wide microscopy community is therefore important to help to educate the next generation of scientists in microscopy, and to foster European exchange, cross-linking and networking of excellent scientists in the field. This is a vital role in any society; allowing members to network in their home countries, across Europe and internationally to expose them to opportunities early in their careers. EMS provides and supports many of these possibilities, as can be seen from its achievements; providing added value in supporting microscopy throughout Europe. In addition, it is also crucial to give young or smaller European countries, such as the new Eastern European countries, the opportunity to be involved in European activities and be part of European research policy.

A society such as EMS is also responsible for communicating with the public sharing findings enthusiastically and displaying our passion for research; both to the general public and the political sphere. This will help to attract the next generation of students, which we need to do more efficiently in future to cope with the challenges of the sixth technology wave - the so-called "green wave" of sustainable technology development, based on using quantum and nanoscaled principles of nature - perfect domains for ultimate microscopy investigations.

There is much more work to do in bringing excellent microscopists together - both to solve urgent and important applications and to develop new instrumentation and methods. Positive steps already taken in this direction include the EMS European Microscopy Award and the Outstanding Paper Awards.

To help shape the future of European science and be ready to deliver a previously unseen view, insight, or realistically scaled models of the "invisible" workings of natural or man-made machines, it is essential that EMS continues its work and establishes new efforts, such as:

• Creating standardized training for microscopy application in the educational curriculum for natural science;
• Establishing a repository for best experimental practice and standard operational procedures to enhance quality, speed and output;
• Maintaining a database of established methods and "how to" guides from seniors in the field, to prepare the next generation and avoid "reinventing the wheel" - technical methods for sample preparation and analysis are rarely published in peer reviewed scientific journals;
• Networking of instrumental projects and research for the next generation of analytical imaging tools;
• Integrating other imaging modalities into the microscopy community;
• Establishing a common communication platform (e.g. a webpage with a discussion forum or wiki) and an EMS journal.

The EMS needs the support of strong individuals, national organizations and the European scientific community to realize these essential initiatives, to benefit our future, by supporting the "green wave" and to continue its ongoing aim of "seeing the invisible".

About EMS
• Over 5,600 individual members and 50 corporate members;
• 23 affiliated national societies;
• Around 225 stipends for students since 1998;
• More than 55 EMS sponsored courses, workshops and conferences;
• 12 EMS extension events held to date and a European Microscopy congress every four years - the next to be held in Lyon, France in 2016.

Dr. Roger Wepf

President European Microscopy Society (EMS)
Director EMEZ, ETH Zurich, Switzerland

Dr. Nick Schryvers
EMS Secretary


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