FWF - OMNI - Orbital Mapping Near Interfaces

Project: Research project

Project Details


According to quantum mechanics, electrons move in so-called orbitals around the atomic nuclei. These orbitals and their interaction with one another give rise to numerous materials properties like, e.g., mechanical stability and adhesion, optical, electrical, and magnetic properties as well as chemical bonding. Therefore, orbitals are of paramount importance for many fields from physics over chemistry and materials science to biology. Despite their central role, it has been difficult to visualize and measure individual orbitals inside of solids so far. In this project, we will combine the two methods of transmission electron microscopy and electron energy loss spectrometry to characterize individual atoms inside selected samples. To that end, the size of the orbitals as well as the required measurement precision pose a significant challenge: they are less than one billionth of a meter in size (about a thousand times smaller than the wavelength of light) and for measuring them, the electron beam has to transfer a very specific amount of energy to the sample. Hence, the measured signal is very weak and noisy. To overcome this challenge, latest-generation instruments will be used to reach ideal imaging conditions. In addition, optimal parameters such as sample thickness, acceleration voltage and energy transfer will be determined both theoretically and experimentally. Moreover, we will investigate the suitability of novel imaging techniques such as wavefunction shaping and differential phase contrast for mapping orbitals. Especially interfaces and defects play an important role for orbital mapping. On the one hand, some conclusions about the direction of orbitals only become possible due to the local changes of the sample in the vicinity of interfaces or defects. On the other hand, they have a huge impact on many practical applications such as the adhesion of protective coatings, the efficiency of electronic devices, or the development of new catalysts. Thus, the novel approaches to orbital mapping that will be developed in this project will not only improve our understanding of orbitals but will also lead to a better applicability of this understanding.
Effective start/end date1/10/1931/03/24


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