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Thin-film phase plates (PPs) have become an interesting tool to enhance the contrast of weak-phase objects in transmission electron microscopy (TEM). The thin film usually consists of amorphous carbon, which suffers from quick degeneration under the intense electron-beam illumination. Recent investigations have focused on the search for alternative materials with an improved material stability. This work presents thin-film PPs fabricated from metallic glass alloys, which are characterized by a high electrical conductivity and an amorphous structure. Thin films of the zirconium-based alloy Zr65.0Al7.5Cu27.5 (ZAC) were fabricated and their phase-shifting properties were evaluated. The ZAC film was investigated by different TEM techniques, which reveal beneficial properties compared with amorphous carbon PPs. Particularly favorable is the small probability for inelastic plasmon scattering, which results from the combined effect of a moderate inelastic mean free path and a reduced film thickness due to a high mean inner potential. Small probability plasmon scattering improves contrast transfer at high spatial frequencies, which makes the ZAC alloy a promising material for PP fabrication.
Transmission electron microscopy (TEM) images of beam sensitive weak-phase objects such as biological cryo samples usually show a very low signal-to-noise ratio. These samples have almost no amplitude contrast and instead structural information is mainly encoded in the phase contrast. To increase the sample contrast in the image, especially for low spatial frequencies, the use of phase plates for close to focus phase contrast enhancement in TEM has long been discussed. Electrostatic phase plates are favorable in particular, as their tunable potential will allow an optimal phase shift adjustment and higher resolution than film phase plates as they avoid additional scattering events in matter. Here we show the first realization of close to focus phase contrast images of actin filament cryo samples acquired using an electrostatic Zach phase plate. Both positive and negative phase contrast is shown, which is obtained by applying appropriate potentials to the phase plate. The dependence of phase contrast improvement on sample orientation with respect to the phase plate is demonstrated and single-sideband artifacts are discussed. Additionally, possibilities to reduce contamination and charging effects of the phase plate are shown.
Zach phase plates (PPs) are promising devices to enhance phase contrast in transmission electron microscopy. The Zach PP shifts the phase of the zero-order beam by a strongly localized inhomogeneous electrostatic potential in the back focal plane of the objective lens. We present substantial improvements of the Zach PP, which overcome previous limitations. The implementation of a microstructured heating device significantly reduces contamination and charging of the PP structure and extends its lifetime. An improved production process allows fabricating PPs with reduced dimensions resulting in lower cut-on frequencies as revealed by simulations of the electrostatic potential. Phase contrast with inversion of PbSe nanoparticles is demonstrated in a standard transmission electron microscope with LaB6 cathode by applying different voltages.
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