Photo of Erwin W. Mueller

Erwin W. Mueller

  • National Medal of Science
  • Engineering

For his invention of the field-emission microscope, the field-ion microscope, and the atom-probe microscope, which helped to resolve the atomic structures of solids.

Erwin W. Mueller was the first man to see an atom, thanks to the specialized microscope he developed. He invented the field ion microscope in 1955 after a year of tinkering with the design.

“It was a sticky day in August that I became the first person to see an atom,” he said of his research. “On that day, the regular array of atoms and a crystal lattice became clearly visible through the field ion microscope which I had developed.”

Years earlier in 1950, he developed a field electron microscope which allowed him to produce images of extremely small molecules — some as small 1-25,000,000th of an inch in diameter.

He also invented another device — an atom probe — which could zero in on a single atom and allowed him to identify elements by atomic weight.

By Christine Ayala