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Physicist Albert Crewe designed the first successful scanning transmission electron microscope (STEM) and used the instrument to capture the first images of individual atoms ever taken in an electron microscope. The STEM enabled researchers across many fields, including medicine, biochemistry, and genetics, to better study the arrangement of atoms.


Crewe was born in Yorkshire, England, in 1927. He earned his PhD in physics from the University of Liverpool in 1951 and first came to the University of Chicago in 1955 to work on the Cyclotron accelerator as a research associate. He went on to serve as director of Argonne National Laboratory's Particle Accelerator Division (1958-1961) and director of Argonne National Laboratory (1961-1967), supervising the design and construction of the lab's Zero Gradient Synchrotron. He became a full professor at the University of Chicago in 1963, where he created the system that would be known as STEM. With STEM, he was able to attain a tenfold improvement in image contrast compared to existing technologies. He published his results in 1970, showing images of individual uranium and thorium atoms for the first time. A few years later, in 1976, he succeeded in creating the first motion picture of atoms interacting within a molecular structure.


Crewe served as dean of the Physical Sciences Division from 1971-1981 and was named the University’s William E. Wrather Distinguished Service Professor in 1977. In his capacity as dean, he wrote an opinion piece for The New York Times, criticizing President Nixon for cutting funds for basic research while calling upon scientists to develop new sources of energy. By the time of his death in 2009, Crewe had earned numerous awards for his contributions to electron microscopy and been named a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Seventh dean of the PSD and influential physicist who invented the scanning transmission electron microscope

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Photo Source: University of Chicago Photographic Archive, [apf1-12050], Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library

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