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    The fast development of high-resolution electron microscopy (EM) demands a background-noise-free substrate to support the specimens, where atomically thin graphene membranes can serve as an ideal candidate. Yet the preparation of robust and ultraclean graphene EM grids remains challenging. Here we present a polymer- and transfer-free direct-etching method for batch fabrication of robust ultraclean graphene grids through membrane tension modulation. Loading samples on such graphene grids enables the detection of single metal atoms and atomic-resolution imaging of the iron core of ferritin molecules at both room- and cryo-temperature. The same kind of hydrophilic graphene grid allows the formation of ultrathin vitrified ice layer embedded most protein particles at the graphene-water interface, which facilitates cryo-EM 3D reconstruction of archaea 20S proteasomes at a record high resolution of ~2.36 Å. Our results demonstrate the significant improvements in image quality using the graphene grids and expand the scope of EM imaging.


    Liming Zheng, Yanan Chen, Ning Li, Jincan Zhang, Nan Liu, Junjie Liu, Wenhui Dang, Bing Deng, Yanbin Li, Xiaoyin Gao, Congwei Tan, Zi Yang, Shipu Xu, Mingzhan Wang, Hao Yang, Luzhao Sun, Yi Cui, Xiaoding Wei, Peng Gao, Hong-Wei Wang, Hailin Peng. Robust ultraclean atomically thin membranes for atomic-resolution electron microscopy. Nature communications. 2020 Jan 28;11(1):541

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    PMID: 31992713

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