Building the first Open Source (inexpensive) Scanning-Tunneling Electron Microscope (STM) – With just enough electronics knowledge to be dangerous and a lot of helpful friends, I embarked on the design and build of an arduino-controlled, affordable STM with the intention of releasing the hardware design, firmware, and software via open source licensing. The goal of this project is to address the following two problems in the world of STM:
Problem 1: The Scanning-Tunneling Electron Microscope, capable of resolving individual atoms, is so elegant a device that it won the 1986 Nobel Prize in physics. Despite it’s simplicity, STM microscopy can be an expensive endeavor: commercial equipment, while truly excellent, costs tens of thousands of dollars – well above the budget of hobbyists and entrepreneurs.
Problem 2: Due to Problem 1, there is a rich history of graduate students building STM devices on modest budgets. However these devices commonly require expensive external equipment (storing oscilloscopes, signal generators, commercial data capture boards, etc.). This external equipment is common in research labs, but not necessarily common to hobby and entrepreneurial workspaces. Additionally, the design information for these graduate student-built devices is spread out amongst theses and dissertations with no central repository of information; therefore, problem solving effort is often duplicated.
Sacha has worked in and around chemistry and engineering as a technician, student, researcher, hobbyist, and entrepreneur for over 14 years. He is currently the president of Pumping Station: One, Chicago’s premier hackerspace where he mostly herds cats and hackers. He also runs chemhacker.com where he discusses the intersection between science, art, opera, creativity, chemistry, and scanning-tunneling electron microscopy. He has recently spoken at Notacon 2010 and will be presenting his STM project at the Open Science Summit in Berkeley, CA July 29-31.
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