New feature at the Technorama: Scanning electron microscope offers a glimpse into the micro and nano world

The Swiss Science Center Technorama in Winterthur has recently acquired a scanning electron microscope (SEM), which can be used to view tiny surface structures in fine detail. With this new device, seemingly smooth surfaces become wild mountain ranges and dust mites and ants are transformed into terrifying monsters. This purchase was made possible by a donation drive initiated by Gloor Instruments. Together with Gloor Instruments itself, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute (SNI) was one of the largest contributors. Additionally, the SNI team from the Nano Imaging Lab is assisting Technorama staff in the operation of the new device. The Technorama crew, in cooperation with the SNI Outreach team, is planning joint workshops in which the new SEM will play a starring role.

When viewed under the SEM, tiny ants appear far more imposing than they normally do. (Image: Nano Imaging Lab, SNI, University of Basel)

From miniscule critter to towering behemoth
Everyone is familiar with the fascinating images of tiny insects and arachnids whose hypnotizing gaze and enormous claws or feelers lend them the appearance of dangerous monsters. Precise images such as these, which reproduce every infinitesimal hair in crystal clear detail, are made using a scanning electron microscope (SEM).

Scanning electron microscopes use a fine, focused beam of electrons to scan the sample one row at a time. Interactions between the electrons and the sample provide information about the properties of the object’s surface.

The Technorama in Winterthur, one of Europe’s largest science centers with a reputation extending far beyond Swiss borders, now hosts just such a device. The Swiss Nanoscience Institute made a substantial contribution to the purchase of the microscope and continues to provide additional support to the Technorama team.

This SEM is also equipped with an energy dispersive X-ray microanalysis (EDX). The EDX is used to analyze the composition of a sample, for instance, to find out what metals are present in a piece of jewelry.

Thorsten-D. Künnemann (Technorama), Christian Schönenberger (SNI) and Harry Brandenberger (Gloor Instruments) present the new SEM at a special ceremony. (Image: K. Beyer-Hans, SNI).

Gloor Instruments launched donation drive
SNI’s new collaboration began with an inquiry from CEO of Gloor Instruments Dr. Harry Brandenberger, who was seeking sponsors to help purchase the scanning electron microscope for the Technorama. It was immediately clear to SNI Director Professor Christian Schönenberger that this investment would be the perfect way to get young people interested in and passionate about the natural sciences. He agreed on the spot. Numerous other companies and private donors contributed to the drive, raising a total of over CHF 150,000 for the investment.

Briefing by the Nano Imaging Lab
Meanwhile, the SEM is installed and six members of the Technorama staff have received thorough training from the experts at the SNI Nano Imaging Lab.

“The team at NI Labs gave us an excellent primer on conducting practical work with the SEM and provided us with an overview of how to prepare different types of samples,” says Kim Kaltenbach from the Technorama biology lab, where the SEM is now housed.

The next step is to make these fascinating tiny structures – ranging from millimeters to nanometers in size – available for guests to see with their own eyes. “During our pilot phase, we’ll ask individual visitors whether they’re interested in working on the SEM themselves,” reports Kim Kaltenbach.

The team from the Technorama attended a workshop in the SNI’s Nano Imaging Lab where they received a primer on sample preparation and operation of the SEM.

Workshops on different topics in the works
How the visitors answer that question will determine what happens next. Either way, the staff from the Technorama plans to work together with the SNI Outreach team to develop workshops in which teachers and students of all ages have the opportunity to do their own work on the SEM and explore different research questions.

The new SEM will offer Technorama visitors a glimpse into the incredible world visible only at the scale of the micrometer and the nanometer.

“We are very pleased that our donation and upcoming collaboration will offer us another means of sharing our fascination for this world of tiny structures with a wider audience.”

Christian Schönenberger, SNI Director


Further informationen:


Nano Imaging Lab SNI