With their first scanning transmission electron microscope (STEM), Albert Crewe and his collaborators have succeeded 40 years ago in bringing to reality a dream for all electron microscopists, to see individual atoms. In the derivation of Crewe's pioneering work, the present review describes various historical and present steps, involving continuous instrumental and methodological developments as well as the preparation of suitable specimens. They have lead to the identification of individual atoms by electron energy-loss spectroscopy (EELS) and to the demonstration of atom-by-atom spectroscopy. Beyond these spectacular successes which open wide fields of use, most recent technical achievements, such as the introduction of monochromators on the incident electron beam or of optical spectrometers for recording spectra (in the visible as well as in the X-ray domain), will undoubtedly lead to refine the accessible signature of single atoms and molecules.

This paper was originally published in Ultramicroscopy (2012) 123, 80-89.

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