The transmission electron microscope (TEM) is one of the most useful tools available to the materials scientist. Yet both the complexity and expense of the equipment, and the huge investment in time necessary to become proficient in specimen preparation and image acquisition and analysis, mean that it is difficult for most industrial institutions to maintain a state-of-the-art TEM facility. How can industry overcome this problem? One solution is to set up a collaboration with a university, an industrial partner, or a government research laboratory. Such collaborations can be extremely valuable to the company, which gains access to microscopes, specimen-preparation equipment and the expertise of professional microscopists, and to the research laboratory, which benefits from the industrial perspective and the private sector's proficiency in materials preparation and processing.
Such collaborations exist, and they can produce excellent results. In this article, we present three case studies in which successful collaboration has occurred between industry and one of the Department of Energy's scientific user facilities, the National Center for Electron Microscopy (NCEM-see sidebar). Our aim is not only to describe results that we hope will be of scientific interest but also to encourage industrial researchers to consider collaborations with institutes such as NCEM.