The Canada Foundation for Innovation has provided the Canadian Centre for Electron Microscopy (CCEM) with a $1.4 million award through the organization’s Major Science Initiatives program. This funding stream is designed to sustain maintenance and repair work at research facilities that make a significant contribution to the Canadian research community and would be difficult to replace.

That description is entirely apt for CCEM, which houses a remarkable collection of instruments for generating images at the atomic scale. Located on the Hamilton campus of McMaster University, the centre has built itself up as a global go-to site for hardware and technical expertise. In addition to high-resolution scanning electron microscopes and a transmission electron microscope, which is capable of imaging at extremely high resolutions, CCEM is also home to Canada’s only 3D atom probe. This microscope provides compositional and structural analysis at the atomic and near-atomic scales. 

Gianluigi Botton, CCEM’s scientific director and holder of the Canada Research Chair in Electron Microscopy of Nanoscale Materials, points to the diverse clientele that has been served by this technology. The list includes more than 1,000 students and research groups over the past five years, along with dozens of government and corporate users, ranging from large multinationals to small startup firms. “They are government regulators seeking the validation of safety concerns in nuclear power plants,” Botton says. “They are health scientists trying to understand the origins of antimicrobial resistance; scientists and engineers developing self-diagnostic paper, or materials to detect tuberculosis. From steel for pipelines, lightweight alloys for cars, to artificial bones, we’re enabling Canadian and international industry to better understand their devices and products and what factors limit their performance.”  

As well, work done at CCEM can also be linked directly to more than 600 publications in journals that span the scientific spectrum. Such accomplishments reflect the high quality of this research infrastructure, which, of course, comes with a price tag. “It’s quite expensive to maintain and we need this kind of support from the CFI,” says Botton. “We bring in user fees but they’re not enough to support the facility and we want to keep the fees reasonable.”