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After 42 hrs of traveling by bus, plane, another plane, metro, another bus and a very long very delayed train ride from Atlanta to Tuscaloosa, I was incredibly happy to finally arrive!

I was warmly greeted by facility manager Rich Martens and shown around the very well maintained, extensive facilities, before the real fun began.

Before the electrical shut-down in Oxford I last spend more than 20 hours every week using the Zeiss NVision to make TEM and atom-probe samples, but now I had not touched a FIB in weeks. I have become accustomed to using the Kleindieck manipultor in Oxford and I have succesfully lifted out a great number of samples with it, but ever since I had seen a demonstration of the Omniprobe micromanipulators at MICROSCIENCE2010 I wanted to play with one. This was going to be the day I had been waiting for so long. With Rich's kind assistance I got to operate a FEI Quanta200 with an Omniprobe manipulator. In just a few hours, we lifted-out and mounted 5 atom-probe needles. The FIB controls reminded me of the controls of our old FEI FIB200 and I felt very comfortable quickly. The Omniprobe manipulator was just as much fun to use as I had imagined. The movement along Cartesian coordinates (almost anyway) is so much more intuitive. I still want one.

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The next day Rich showed me the latest addition to his machine park at the University of Alabama - a Tescan Lyra3 dual beam FIB. It was possible to track a grain boundary to the final stages of sample preparation, although milling had to be stopped to obtain a useful SEM image. The software is still in development and completely different from the Zeiss and FEI systems I know. Tescan have taken the chance to create something new from scratch. The software has some great features, e.g. automatically moving  point on the sample to cross-over. No manual fine adjustment of the z-height and fiddling with limited beam shifts... This system has the potential for greatness, if they manage to clean up the user interface to make it more intuitive (and create a more comprehensive help-file). We managed to sharpen a bunch of needles in half a day.

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The LEAP in Alabama is a 3000 system (green laser, linear flight-path). We ran two sets of samples during my time there and I left a few spare tips.
I got to leave with data, many a new insight on FIB/LEAP operation and the memories of a beautiful country and the friendliest people.

 

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    Why a travel blog on a professional website? The idea for this section came to me on a recent collaboration visit. Aren't the experiences we make and the friendships we form some of our most important assets?

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