September 13, 2019

Charting the Frontier of Electron Microscopy

Experts at PNNL-led workshop discuss instrument design, data analytics

Two female scientists and one male scientist stand by a banner listing the sponsors for the NexTEM workshop.

Over 100 electron microscopy leaders gathered for the NexTEM workshop at the Microscopy and Microanalysis Conference in Portland, Ore. Co-organizers of the workshop were, from left, SuperSTEM Laboratory’s Demie Kepaptsoglou, Mitra Taheri with Johns Hopkins University, and PNNL’s Steven Spurgeon.

The second annual Next-Generation Transmission Electron Microscopy (NexTEM) workshop assembled a group of international experts to discuss the future of electron microscopy. The event—held in Portland, Ore., as a pre-meeting congress for the Microscopy and Microanalysis Conference—identified the emerging advances in instrumentation, analytics and dynamic imaging capabilities needed to tackle the world’s most pressing scientific challenges.

The meeting brought together over 100 attendees from universities, government, and industry from more than 10 countries to discuss new instrument designs, high-speed detectors, and the data analytics needed to extract meaning from vast data sets.

PNNL’s Steven Spurgeon, NexTEM co-organizer, said that many speakers commented on the large data sets collected by high-speed detectors, which form images of the material being studied. While instruments can now capture data faster than ever, there is a need to establish a workflow to efficiently store, process, and analyze these data. Machine learning techniques, such as those being developed at PNNL, have the potential to rapidly screen and reduce the dimensionality of these large, complex data sets.

"You're drinking from a fire hose when the instrument takes 1,000 images a second," Spurgeon noted. "When you've acquired a five-minute movie, how does a human go through all of those images? We have to find some way to fully or semi-automate a method to parse the data."

Female researcher views particles through eyepiece of large microscope while moving mouse with right hand to take scientific images.
A PNNL researcher uses an electron microscope.

The workshop built on the momentum from last year’s NexTEM meeting at PNNL.

“This year we made an effort to have more dialogue throughout the day with small panels of speakers and we offered new ways for people to ask questions via an online platform,” Spurgeon said. “Attendees told us that this was really valuable, as it’s usually difficult to get this kind of informal discussion going at large meetings."

The NexTEM workshop attendees also discussed the possibility of completely redesigning the electron microscope for areas such as quantum information science. New magnetic lens designs, low-temperature environments, and improved in situ stage designs can unlock the dynamic properties of materials. For example, PNNL Laboratory Fellow Chongmin Wang presented his group’s recent in situ electrochemistry work, which is helping researchers improve the design of batteries and other energy storage technologies.

Spurgeon and co-organizers Demie Kepaptsoglou from the SuperSTEM Laboratory and Mitra Taheri from Johns Hopkins University plan to host the third annual NexTEM workshop at Johns Hopkins University in fall 2020. The event will continue the focus on emerging advances at the forefront of electron microscopy.

Spurgeon is a materials scientist and his work at PNNL includes leading a Nuclear Process Science Initiative project on high-resolution studies of radiation damage in oxides.


About PNNL

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory draws on its distinguishing strengths in chemistry, Earth sciences, biology and data science to advance scientific knowledge and address challenges in sustainable energy and national security. Founded in 1965, PNNL is operated by Battelle for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States. DOE’s Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit For more information on PNNL, visit PNNL's News Center. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram.

Published: September 13, 2019