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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.
A promising novel type of electrostatic phase plate for transmission electron microscopy (TEM) is presented. The phase plate consists of a single microcoaxial cable-like rod with its electrode exposed to the undiffracted electrons. The emerging field is used to shift the phase of the undiffracted electrons with respect to diffracted electrons. The design overcomes the drawback of the spatial frequency-blocking ring electrode of the Boersch phase plate. First, experimental phase-contrast images are presented for PbSe and Pt nanoparticles with clearly varying phase contrast, which depends on the applied voltage and resulting phase shift of the unscattered electrons. With the new phase-plate design, we show for the first time the reconstruction of an object wave function based on a series of only three experimental phase-contrast TEM images obtained with an electrostatic phase plate.