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Transmission electron microscopy may have brought about some of the most cutting-edge research into materials physics, but the technique doesn’t come without its limitations. In his research, Dr Jinfeng Yang at Osaka University in Japan aims to further improve the capabilities of the most powerful microscopes ever made, by accelerating the pulsed beams of electrons they produce to relativistic speeds. Through several recent experiments, he and his team have shown that their updated technique of ‘ultrafast electron microscopy’ can image atomic-scale processes directly as they unfold.

Physicists have been measuring the properties of materials for many centuries. For most of…

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