The BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in the Basic Sciences category is awarded in this sixth edition to Maximilian Haider, Harald Rose and Knut Urban for greatly enhancing the resolving power of electron microscopy by developing aberration-corrected electron optics, a breakthrough enabling subatomic precision.
A little over two decades ago, the resolution of electron microscopes used to explore materials with resolution close to their atomic dimensions appeared to have reached its limits. Having given up hope, the community’s atten- tion shifted elsewhere. The sheer persistence of Maximilian Haider, Harald Rose and Knut Urban over the next decade led to the understanding, development and deployment of aberration-correction techniques in electron optics. Rose developed the theoretical approach to aberration correction in electron optics. Haider realized a working implementation demonstrating the electron optics. Urban made this a practical instrument for genuine atomic studies in materials where electron scattering is inverted very precisely. This gives the instrument an ability to observe picometer-sized displacements in the material, i.e. a factor of 100 below the size of an atom. One can now study defects, interfacial effects and consequences of subtle atomic shifts in the properties of materials, and dynamics of interactions at specific atomic sites. This new kind of microscopy is now a key technique in many areas of fundamental and applied science.