Atoms were introduced in antiquity as a philosophical term, then in the nineteenth century as a theoretical physical concept. However, no one believed that atoms could ever be seen. This changed during the twentieth century when people set out to develop microscopies that would allow them to associate a direct visual concept with the notion of atoms. I had the privilege of being involved in one of these developments. This is the evolution of transmission electron microscopy to atomic resolution. On the one hand, this involves the development of the associated electron optics. On the other hand, which is particularly important to me as a materials scientist, this concerns the first applications of atomic electron microscopy to problems in materials science. For this purpose, a very few, easy-to-see examples will be given, which are interesting from a general point of view and may contribute one or the other aspect to answering the question of what we can do now and possibly in the future. This is a very personal account of the journey toward seeing atoms in matter. This journey has changed the world around us, as well as ourselves. Therefore, when we emphasize the potential for application today, we should not lose sight of the worldview and aesthetic aspects of seeing atoms.
- Prof. Knut Wolf Urban | Ernst Ruska Center, Research Center Juelich, Germany