The super-microscope is coming home!
SALVE is moving into its new residence at Ulm University

Ulm University

The sun is shining and champagne glasses are bubbling. Oberer Eselsberg has reason to celebrate: The SALVE microscope is coming home! The joy and relief among the small group of guests is great when the truck arrives on time at 11 a.m. in front of the new light-grey building. Its cargo: the components of a super-microscope – worth 11 million euros and professionally packed into numerous maritime pine boxes – which is now finding a new home near the Oberberghof.

The device is four metres high, weighs tons and took seven years and 10.6 million euros to develop and construct. And now it is here! The SALVE microscope is the first and to this day only low-voltage transmission electron microscope (TEM) with twofold aberration correction. 'This technology allows us not only to see individual atoms, but also to capture their movements and interactions with unprecedented precision. Even radiation-sensitive materials like biomolecules or ultrathin materials can be examined,' explains SALVE project manager Professor Ute Kaiser. The physician manages the Electron Microscopy Group of Materials Science at Ulm University and happens to celebrate her birthday on this day.

SALVE stands for Sub-Ångström Low-Voltage Electron microscopy and is the acronym for a research initiative that was launched in 2009 at Ulm University with the purpose to develop a particularly material-friendly technology for electron-microscopic imaging with atomic-scale resolution. Since the completion of the device in April last year, it had been stored at CEOS, a company in Heidelberg which is a project partner of the University and developed the electron-optical aberration-correcting system. The other partner in this project is microscope manufacturer FEI. A specialised freight company has now transported the SALVE microscope from Heidelberg via Stuttgart to its new residence at Oberer Eselsberg.

The new microscope building, which was built in just one and a half years and finished just in time for the move, is located in direct proximity to the Oberberghof. The two-level concrete building with the word SALVE written in capital letters above the entrance may appear relatively unimpressive, but there is a lot to it. In order to warrant a smooth and accurate operation of the super-microscope, which will be accompanied by the TITAN microscope of the University later on, the functional building must fulfil highest requirements. Electron microscopes like SALVE must be protected against shock and vibration as well as interfering magnetic fields while maintaining a temperature-stable environment. Both TEM rooms have elastic foundations and meet sound studio standards with regards to sound absorption. The building cost 3.85 million euros. It is equipped with a so-called magnetic field compensation system and protected against external elctromagnetic radiation. The new microscope building offers special vibration insulation with its 'house in house' construction and the special dynamically bedded foundation. The Stadtwerke Ulm (municipal utility provider) cover 44 percent of the total costs as the ongoing construction works for the new tram line was what made the building necessary in the first place. Ulm University and the State of Baden-Württemberg share the other 56 percent in a two to one ratio.

It will take some time until the microscope is fully installed and ready to be put into operation. The scientists will need to remain patient until they can finally continue their materials science research with the SALVE device. The researchers not only analyse novel 2D materials, but also biomolecules and hybrid materials. The SALVE microscope will afford the materials and quantum sciences as well as battery research and molecular biology unique insights into the world of atoms. The development and construction of the twofold aberration-corrected low-voltage TEM was funded by the German Research Foundation, the State of Baden-Württemberg and the Carl Zeiss Foundation.

The four-metre high housing of the SALVE microscope is being assembled (photo: Hans-Martin Schwarz)
SALVE project manager Professor Ute Kaiser (Ulm University) and project partner Professor Maximilian Haider (CEOS) help unpack the microscope components with a cordless screwdriver (photo: Andreas Brücken)