TEM-Aster: a technological innovation for the study of sensitive and asteroidal materials at the atomic scale

In 2021, we will be part of a selected international team of researchers that will receive samples from the Hayabusa2 space mission (JAXA space agency, Japan) for analysis. These will be the first samples of a carbonaceous asteroid ever returned to Earth.  The samples should have preserved material from the earliest stages of solar system formation. We anticipate that the most important discoveries will require physical and chemical characterization at the nanoscale in an analytical electron microscope. However, with the currently available technology, electron beam damage significantly limits the resolution that can be achieved for the beam-sensitive materials that are of the greatest interest to the project (organic matter and hydrated silicates). To overcome this barrier, we propose to develop a novel data acquisition mode based on the combination of a new type of detector and advanced big data processing.

Beyond the context of space missions, the project proposes technological and methodological innovations that will enable the exploration of solid matter with the ultimate resolution for a wide range of electron-sensitive materials, until now impossible to study at the nanoscale. Hence, our developments will be useful to the study of a wide range of beam sensitive materials of interest. Without being exhaustive, we give some examples in direct connection with research activities of the University of Lille: pharmaceutical materials, polymers, aerosols, a wide range of materials for energy, nanoreactors for catalysis, etc … Finally, scientific outcomes from space missions always attract the interest of the media. Therefore, we believe that our project has great potential for public outreach and, therefore, includes multiple science outreach actions.


Principal Investigator (PI): Hugues Leroux