That’s a Big Microscope…

I’ve often said that there are no secrets in hardware — you just need a bigger, better microscope.

I think I’ve found the limit to that statement. To give you an idea, here’s the “lightbulb” that powers the microscope:

It’s the size of a building, and it’s the Swiss Light Source. Actually, not all of that building is dedicated to this microscope, just one beamline of an X-ray synchrotron capable of producing photons at an energy of 6.5keV (X-rays) at a flux of close to a billion coherent photons per second — but still, it’s a big light bulb. It might be a while before you see one of these popping up in a hacker’s garage…err, hangar…somewhere.

The result? One can image, in 3-D and “non-destructively” (e.g., without having to delayer or etch away dielectrics), chips down to a resolution of 14.6nm.

That’s a pretty neat trick if you’re trying to reverse engineer modern silicon.

You can read the full article at Nature (“High Resolution non-destructive three-dimensional imaging of integrated circuits” by Mirko Holler et al). I’m a paying subscriber to Nature so I’m supposed to have access to the article, but at the moment, their paywall is throwing a null pointer exception. Once the paywall is fixed you can buy a copy of the article to read, but in the meantime, SciHub seems more reliable.

You get what you pay for, right?

17 Responses to “That’s a Big Microscope…”

  1. […] That’s a Big Microscope… 3 by etiam | 0 comments on Hacker News. […]

  2. Pierre says:

    Correction: You don’t get what you don’t pay for.

  3. Criação says:

    If you want even larger systems, you should check out the European XFEL, which was just opened, and is now the most powerful free electron laser in existence.
    It’s quite a sight.

  4. Christina says:

    So cool!

    • Oren Tirosh says:

      Resolution is still pretty far from diffraction limit. There is still room for much improvement…

  5. JoachimS says:


    Another place with big lightbuld that recently started is the MAX IV lab in Sweden:

    Several beamlines for all kinds of interesting studies:

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  7. Iris says:

    Heh, makes me think of this, which was at the same lab as my last internship. One of my co-workers worked with the microscope but I never had enough free time to tour it. Wonder how similar it is.

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  9. Jay says:

    It’s neat how they made the building look like a giant pupil.

  10. Dee says:

    The Swiss Light Source (SLS) is a synchrotron located at the Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland for producing electromagnetic radiation of high brightness. Planning started in 1991, the project was approved in 1997, and first light from the storage ring was seen at December 15, 2000. The experimental program started in June 2001 and it is used for research in materials science, biology and chemistry.