Published online by Cambridge University Press: 22 January 2004
The resolution achieved in low-dose electron microscopy of biological macromolecules is significantly worse than what can be obtained on the same microscopes with more robust specimens. When two-dimensional crystals are used, it is also apparent that the high-resolution image contrast is much less than what it could be if the images were perfect. Because specimen charging is one factor that might limit the contrast and resolution achieved with biological specimens, we have investigated the use of holey support films that have been coated with a metallic film before depositing specimens onto a thin carbon film that is suspended over the holes. Monolayer crystals of paraffin (C44H90) are used as a test specimen for this work because of the relative ease in imaging Bragg spacings at ∼0.4 nm resolution, the relative ease of measuring the contrast in these images, and the similar degree of radiation sensitivity of these crystals when compared to biological macromolecules. A metallic coating on the surrounding support film does, indeed, produce a significant improvement in the high-resolution contrast for a small fraction of the images. The majority of images show little obvious improvement, however, and even the coated area of the support film continues to show a significant amount of beam-induced movement under low-dose conditions. The fact that the contrast in the best images can be as much as 25%–35% of what it would be in a perfect image is nevertheless encouraging, demonstrating that it should be possible, in principle, to achieve the same performance for every image. Routine data collection of this quality would make it possible to determine the structure of large, macromolecular complexes without the need to grow crystals of these difficult specimen materials.