The dynamic transmission electron microscope (DTEM) is introduced as a novel tool for in situ processing of materials. Examples of various types of dynamic studies outline the advantages and differences of laser-based heating in the DTEM in comparison to conventional (resistive) heating in situ TEM methods. We demonstrate various unique capabilities of the drive laser, namely, in situ processing of nanoscale materials, rapid and high temperature phase transformations, and controlled thermal activation of materials. These experiments would otherwise be impossible without the use of the DTEM drive laser. Thus, the potential of the DTEM as a new technique to process and characterize the growth of a myriad of micro and nanostructures is demonstrated. Microsc. Res. Tech., 2009. Published 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.