Having underestimated how long my limb across the former area for the Universal Exposition in 1992 would take, I met my Spanish collaborator Lionel Cervera Gontard 10 minutes late at the reception of the Materials Department.
Due to a shortage of instrument time I only had a day for sample preparation and I am anxious to find out, whether my specimens are good enough for advanced spectroscopy.
Today I will have the chance to operate a Tecnai F30 with a GIF!
Lionel has already filled up the lN2 for me and we can get started instantly.


5 days of Materials Science from 9 am to 7.30 pm. I was only signed up for Monday to Wednesday.
I had sprained my ankle at a wedding the weekend before and almost didn't make it, but having spend the best part of a day in A&E, I found an alternative flight and was limping across Spanish cobble stones.
On arrival at the Residencia des Investigadores, I was reminded again that not everyone speaks English. Unfortunately, I don't speak Spanish and the little I know, I keep getting confused with the little Italian that is stuck from a one term beginners course.  It was my lucky day however, the security guard at reception didn't know a word of English, but he spoke a little French!

The Environmental Degradation Meeting was always going to be a highlight in my diary. Because of the limited size and scope of the conference I knew that almost everything was going to be relevant to my research. I am always excited to meet all those great academics whose papers I read all the time.
I was giving two presentations myself - one about work from my DPhil and one about more recent results from my post-doctoral position. My first slot was on Monday afternoon.

I arrived at Pasco, the Tri-Cities airport, just after midnight and was warmly greeted by staff scientist Dan Schreiber and his wife. From there we drove to Richland, where I was going to spend the next three weeks.One of the first instruments I got use at PNNL was another FEI Quanta and an FEI Helios! ...and of course the infamous LEAP 4000HR.
I was amazed how uncomplicated it was to get access to these machines with little or no supervision. While our house FIB scientist in Oxford, who has known me for at least 5 years, doesn't let me use the new Helios, because he hasn't gotten round to training me personally, that was not an issue at PNNL. Dan had organised extended working hour access for me, which means, that I was allowed to use equipment from 6 am until midnight and at the weekends.
And then there was the blue laser on the LEAP 4000HR. In the community it is raved about by those who have one, and mocked by those who don't. Do I want one? Yes! Do I desperately need it? Well, for most of my samples probably not. With the reflectron we get pretty decent mass resolution with our green laser at moderate laser powers, but with the blue laser you don't even have to try. It just comes out pretty.
All in all I spend three weeks in characterisation paradise and I didn't even get to use any of the TEM/STEMs!

My American colleagues also took very good care of me outside the lab. When I wasn't snatching another free weekend shift on the LEAP, I was provided with and amazing 24/7 animation service!
I floated the Yakima river, swam a mile in the Columbia river, visited Portland, OR, ate too many donuts, ran, biked, had my first Zumba class, ran the Black Widow Mud & Sun Run and went wine tasting in Walla Walla.
I was taken out for lots of tasty lunches, BBQs at the pool side and I learned to play euchre - a Michigan card game. I can only thank my hosts 100x for making my stay such a great experience and I hope that I will be able to visit

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.

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.

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.


    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?


    July 2013