We mentioned a recent paper that examined silicon/carbon fibers for use in batteries. Shown above is a TEM image from the paper. From it you can tell the fibers are essentially hollow carbon fibers with a layer of silicon around the outside edge.
Transmission electron microscopes (TEMs) work by shooting a beam of electrons through a sample. The sample has to be quite thin to let the electrons through, but since these fibers are around 100 nm thick that is fine. The important thing is that the image is made with electrons. This is different than the sort of images you’re used to, such as those made with cameras, regular microscopes, or even your eyes: all of those images are made by light. Electrons have a smaller wavelength than light, and so electron microscopes work at extremely high resolution: in some cases you can make out individual atoms with them.
Why would anyone care about silicon-coated nano-fibers? Because lithium ions can be stored inside silicon, and that makes these fibers well-suited to storing lithium for lithium ion batteries. Some researchers think we may be able to extend the life of batteries using these.