The new possibilities of aberration-corrected scanning transmission electron microscopy (STEM) extend far beyond the factor of 2 or more in lateral resolution that was the original motivation. The smaller probe also gives enhanced single atom sensitivity, both for imaging and for spectroscopy, enabling light elements to be detected in a Z-contrast image and giving much improved phase contrast imaging using the bright field detector with pixel-by-pixel correlation with the Z-contrast image. Furthermore, the increased probe-forming aperture brings significant depth sensitivity and the possibility of optical sectioning to extract information in three dimensions. This paper reviews these recent advances with reference to several applications of relevance to energy, the origin of the low-temperature catalytic activity of nanophase Au, the nucleation and growth of semiconducting nanowires, and the origin of the eight orders of magnitude increased ionic conductivity in oxide superlattices. Possible future directions of aberration-corrected STEM for solving energy problems are outlined.
- © 2009 The Royal Society