Photo: Lisbeth Holten

Professor intends to see green chemical processes

Thursday 16 Sep 21


Stig Helveg
Professor, centerleader
DTU Physics

A new electron microscope can provide greater insight into individual nanoparticles in a catalyst used for, e.g., Power-to-X processes.

Stig Helveg has been appointed professor at DTU Physics. This also marks the start of the new Danish National Research Foundation Center for Visualizing Catalytic Processes (VISION), which he heads and where the a new electron microscope will be established and used. 

"We want to observe the individual nanoparticles and understand how their atomic structures and mechanisms contribute to their catalytic mode of action."
Stig helveg, Professor DTU Physics

The new electron microscope aims at visualizing individual nanoparticles in catalysts used to accelerate chemical processes without being consumed in them. Once the individual atoms in a nanoparticle can be identified, the next step will be to determine their catalytic properties.

“By combining a range of new technologies for the first time, we will establish a unique electron microscope to enable us to meet the ambitious goal of VISION. We want to observe the individual nanoparticles and understand how their atomic structures and mechanisms contribute to their catalytic mode of action. This will enable us to determine which nanoparticles are particularly suited for a catalytic process—and subsequently use that insight to optimize and design new and better catalysts,” says Stig Helveg.

The goal is a paradigm shift in the research

This is nothing less than a paradigm shift in the research field if the researchers succeed in acquiring the desired insight into the mode of action of individual nanoparticles. 

It is also invaluable knowledge in relation to the green transition, where one focus is on converting the CO2, of which we have too much in the atmosphere, into new compounds that can be used as, for example, fuels for heavy traffic.

“It’s quite a complicated and challenging project. We have just published a scientific article showing a first step of the way, and we are engaged in the next steps, where VISION will establish a new electron microscope for observations of the mode of action of nanoparticles in catalytic processes,” says Stig Helveg.

The new electron microscope will be located at DTU, and other national and international leading researchers will thus have an opportunity to use it and collaborate on solving some of the most pressing scientific problems in this field.

A strengthening of DTU’s catalysis research

The appointment of Stig Helveg and establishment of his new research centre marks a significant strengthening of DTU’s catalysis research. 

Stig Helveg has been a scientific employee at Haldor Topsoe A/S for the past 20 years. Here, he was hired as a young physicist to work on a very ambitous assignment: to observe catalysts that facilitate chemical reactions on an atomic scale. Observations that until then had not been available, but for which he began developing and applying advanced microscopy technology. 

This became the start of a long career that has been concentrated on electron microscopy and the development of analysis methods and equipment, all focused on solving specific scientific problems in industrial catalysis. With his longstanding work, Stig Helveg has contributed to laying the foundation for a new research area in precisely electron microscopy and catalysis.

“We’re pleased to be able to employ such a competent researcher and to house the new basic research centre, VISION. With Stig’s focus on acquiring knowledge about the individual nanoparticles in a catalyst, his work is a good supplement to our current very strong international research environments in catalysis headed by Jens Kehlet Nørskov and Ib Chorkendorff,” says Rasmus Larsen, Provost, DTU. 

Stig Helveg is also pleased with the location of the centre. 

“The latest technological advances in electron microscopy offer an opportunity to take my research to the next level. In this connection, it is crucial to be part of a unique academic environment in catalysis research. It’s therefore fantastic to be able to start as a professor at DTU. VISION couldn’t have been given a better starting point.”


The Danish National Research Foundation supports curiosity-driven and ambitious frontline research of the highest quality in Denmark with Centres of Excellence grants.

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