What is the goal of the Collaborative Partner and Reference Site with Leica Microsystems?
Guillaume Fiquet: The “Institut de Minéralogie, de Physique des Matériaux et de Cosmochimie (IMPMC – www.impmc.upmc.fr) is a research unit of the University Pierre et Marie Curie – Paris 6, under contract with CNRS (UMR 7590), Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, and IRD. The Institute now counts more than 120 permanent scientists or staff members and 60 visitors, postdoctoral fellows and PhD students.
More interestingly, the research activities of the IMPMC cover a unique range of interdisciplinary topics in condensed matter physics, mineralogy and biology. Synthesis and observation of samples is an important aspect of our day-to-day research. Among various items of equipment used in the institute, Leica microscopes, binoculars and preparation tools have always been our choice. I think we can have a very interactive and constructive collaboration with Leica Microsystems, and we offer a range of services for further nanoscale observations of samples prepared with Leica equipment.
What are the benefits for users of the site?
Guillaume Fiquet: IMPMC is located at the center of Paris on Jussieu campus. Even if the campus is still undergoing quite intense building work, the lab is fully operational and easy to access. Beyond preparation or optical observation of samples, users of the IMPMC site can benefit from a large experience in material science. The IMPMC has a long-standing tradition and expertise in high-pressure science and technology, advanced spectroscopic techniques for investigating the structural, electronic and dynamical properties of complex solids and in first principles theoretical modelling of these properties. In parallel, the institute has a strong involvement in large instruments such as synchrotron sources, where competences in x-ray theory, optics and various x-ray spectroscopic or diffraction techniques are unanimously recognized. The research strategy of the IMPMC strongly relies on the effective feedback between materials synthesis and physical characterization, advanced spectroscopic studies and theory and modelling.
On top of that, we host some of the most amazing collections of minerals and meteorites not only in France, but in the whole world. These are the most ancient in Paris. The minerals collection of IMPMC has been inherited from the 19th century collection of La Sorbonne. The origin of the collection of the French Musée National d’Histoire Naturelle (MNHN) also goes back to the middle of the 19th century. It was significantly expanded and enriched due to the great interest and curiosity of several naturalists and scientists, and particularly by Auguste Daubrée and Alfred Lacroix.
Who can use the site?
Guillaume Fiquet: Any scientist interested in material science or mineralogy should pay a visit. We have a large number of visiting scientists, working in collaboration with one of the ten groups in our institute, who come here to carry out experiments, observations, theoretical calculations, or collaborate on experiments on large instruments such as synchrotron sources, XFEL, high-power lasers or neutron sources. Of course, any scientist interested in Leica preparation tools should apply for a demo.
Which applications and research goals can be realized here?
Guillaume Fiquet: IMPMC is expert in a broad range of activities, from the study of the structural and electronic properties of both natural and advanced synthetic materials, the physical properties of high-pressure minerals with applications for Deep Earth geophysics, bio-mineralogy with a strong focus on early life and environmental research to the structure of macromolecules of biological or biochemical interest.
More specifically, the Leica EM TIC 3X Ion Beam Slope Cutter operating at the IMPMC allows cross-sections to be produced of hard, soft, porous, heat-sensitive, brittle and/or heterogeneous material, not only for scanning electron microscopy, but also for a number of micro-analyses (EDS, EBSD, AFM, NanoSIMS). Revealing internal structures of a number of samples is of great importance in various fields of Earth and material sciences, ranging from cosmochemistry and environmental mineralogy to nanopaleontology, for instance. Thanks to the multiple sample stages of the Leica EM TIC 3X, any sample may be prepared, thereby allowing large-scale polishing while minimizing both contamination and damage.
What highlights have there been since the start of the collaboration site?
Guillaume Fiquet: Although the Leica EM TIC 3X has been operating at the IMPMC for less than two months, it has already produced cross-sections of a number of samples, including Archean cherts (potentially containing traces of the earliest life forms on Earth) as well as meteorite fragments and sensitive material such as silex and argilite rocks. Considering the capabilities of this equipment, there is no doubt that numerous applications will be developed in the next few months.
Why did you choose Leica Microsystems as a collaboration partner?
Guillaume Fiquet: Leica Microsystems is a reference for microscopes, imaging equipment and preparation of microscopic specimens and related products. The IMPMC has been equipped for years now with Leica binoculars, microscope, metallization or critical-point preparation tools. It’s nice to have other ultimate tools that we can test on a large variety of samples, synthetic or natural, and that will also simply improve our observation capabilities.
What is your vision as director of the site? What are your goals, what do you expect?
Guillaume Fiquet: Today, work in material or earth sciences involves integrating various scales of observations, from the nanoscale to that of bulky rocks or manufactured materials, to understand specific properties of these materials. Our observations on the nanoscale indeed help us to understand the physical processes at play in these materials, and to link structural and physical properties. This encompasses applications in superconductors, glass, natural or synthetic materials and geobiology. Don’t forget that minerals are unique clues to the history of the Earth and planets, and that this 4.5 billion-year history is sometimes sealed on the micron or nano scale.
A glimpse into the future: How will sample preparation for electron microscopy evolve within the next 10 years?
Guillaume Fiquet: I am not a microscopist myself, but I can see that focused ion beam has been a revolution, at least for the field I am working in. I would anticipate that cryo applications will develop, and more generally, all sample preparation tools capable of preserving fragile structures, with some tools to transfer samples inside electron microscopes, may be equipped with microfluidic cells. There is an obvious need for more in situ observations.