The researchers installed the instrument at the U.S. Department of Energy's National Center for Electron Microscopy, located at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Center Director Uli Dahmen said the microscope embodies technical advances that have only recently become possible, including ultra-stable electronics, improved aberration correctors and an extremely bright electron source, researchers said.
It's not just high resolution that makes the instrument the world's best microscope, Dahmen said, noting that when all the electrons in the beam focus at the same plane, image contrast and signal-to-noise ratio improve tremendously.
"It's because the signal-to-noise ratio is so good that you can adjust focus atom by atom, with enough sensitivity to obtain information about the three-dimensional atomic structure of a single nanoparticle." Dahmen added, "This brings us within reach of meeting the great challenge posed by the famous physicist Richard Feynman in 1959: the ability to analyze any chemical substance simply by looking to see where the atoms are."
The Berkeley National Laboratory conducts unclassified scientific research and is managed by the University of California.