Geosciences with an atomically sharpened view

The Minister of Science of the Federal State of Brandenburg, Dr. Manja Schüle in conversation with GFZ researcher Dr. Vladimir Roddatis and the interim scientific executive director of the GFZ, Prof. Dr. Niels Hovius.

The new high-performance transmission electron microscope of the GFZ was commissioned on 24.11.2020. It can visualize smallest structures in the atomic range. This is possible because instead of light, an electron beam is used that passes through a wafer-thin rock or metal sample or biomaterials. No other geoscientific institution in Germany has such powerful, latest-generation equipment. With the now completed "Potsdam Imaging and Spectral Analysis (PISA)" infrastructure, Potsdam is one of the top 5 geo electron microscopy locations worldwide. Comparable infrastructures in the geosciences can only be found in Australia, the USA and England.

With the transmission electron microscope, a wide range of samples is examined at the GFZ, for example of meteorites or microbes, tiny inclusions in diamonds, oceanic plankton or bio-minerals like calcareous shells of algae. This also helps to better understand complex processes, such as the weathering of rocks and the formation of raw materials or methane hydrates, which are driven by geology, chemistry and biology. Precise knowledge of the rock properties and organisms is also important when it comes to studying the subsurface for energy storage (hydrogen, natural gas) and energy production (geothermal energy) or for storing carbon dioxide. With the new microscope, the effects of the greenhouse effect can also be better studied.

The PISA infrastructure is embedded in the "Interfacial Geochemistry" section headed by Prof. Liane G. Benning. Together with the interim Scientific Director of the German Research Center for Geosciences, Prof. Dr. Niels Hovius, Brandenburg's Minister of Science, Dr. Manja Schüle, has now given the go-ahead for the commissioning of the new transmission electron microscope, which was supported by the federal state of Brandenburg with 2.8 million euros from the European Structural Funds (ERDF) and 500,000 euros from the GFZ. During her visit, the Minister of Science Dr. Manja Schüle paid tribute to the GFZ: "The Telegrafenberg not only has a long history of scientific research - the imposing “Scientific Hill” today is home to several research institutions of international renown. With the newly acquired electron microscope, the GFZ can now investigate the effects of the greenhouse effect even better. It thus provides important scientific contributions for the future of Brandenburg, Germany and Europe".

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