Scanning Electron Microscope

A scanning electron microscope (SEM) is a type of electron microscope that produces
images of a sample by scanning it with a focused beam of electrons. The electrons interact with
electrons in the sample, producing various signals that can be detected and that contain
information about the sample's surface topography and composition. The electron beam
generally scanned in a raster scan pattern, and the beam's position is combined with the detected
signal to produce an image. SEM can achieve resolution better than 1 nanometer. Specimens can
be observed in high vacuum, low vacuum and in environmental SEM specimens can be observed
in wet conditions.

Mechanism of SEM
The SEM focuses an electron beam at a point on the surface of the sample and then
measures the resulting electrons with a detector. By doing this in a raster pattern across the
surface, an image formed, pixel by pixel. At the top of the image is the column where the
electron beam generated and focused. From the column comes the electron beam, also called the
primary electrons, shown here in blue. When the primary electrons affect the surface, they
generate secondary electrons, backscattered electrons, Auger electrons, X-ray photons and
cathode luminescence.
Secondary electron detectors are standard equipment in all SEMs, but it is rare that a
single machine would have detectors for all possible signals. The signals result from interactions
of the electron beam with atoms at or near the surface of the sample. In the most common or
standard detection mode, secondary electron imaging or SEI, the SEM can produce very highresolution images of a sample surface, revealing details less than one nm in size. Due to the very
narrow electron beam, SEM micrographs have a large depth of field yielding a characteristic
three-dimensional appearance useful for understanding the surface structure of a sample. A wide
range of magnifications is possible, from about 10 times (about equivalent to that of a powerful
hand-lens) to more than 500,000 times, about 250 times the magnification limit of the best light
Back-scattered electrons (BSE) are beam electrons that reflected from the sample
by elastic scattering. BSE often used in analytical SEM along with the spectra made from the
characteristic X-rays, because the intensity of the BSE signal strongly related to the atomic
number of the specimen. BSE images can provide information about the distribution of different
elements in the sample. For the same reason, BSE imaging can image colloidal immune of 5 or
10 nm diameters, which would otherwise be difficult or impossible to detect in secondary
electron images in biological specimens.
Characteristic X-rays emitted when the electron beam removes an inner shell
electron from the sample, causing a higher-energy electron to fill the shell and release energy.
These characteristic X-rays used to identify the composition and measure the abundance of
elements in the sample.

Low-voltage SEM typically conducted in an FEG-SEM because the field emission guns (FEG) is capable of producing high primary electron brightness and . Therefore. Several models of SEM can examine any part of a 6-inch (15 cm) semiconductor wafer. gold/palladium alloy. tungsten. and electrically grounded to prevent the accumulation of electrostatic charge at the surface. The improvement arises because secondary electron emission for high atomic number materials enhanced. and O-osmium). Nonconductive specimens may be imaged uncoated using environmental SEM (ESEM) or low-voltage mode of SEM operation. this causes scanning faults and other image artifacts. T-thiocarbohydrazide.Fig: SEM mechanism Sample All samples must also be of an appropriate size to fit in the specimen chamber and generally mounted rigidly on a specimen holder called a specimen stub. Metal objects require little special preparation for SEM except for cleaning and mounting on a specimen stub. coating may increase signal/noise ratio for samples of low atomic number (Z). The high-pressure region around the sample in the ESEM neutralizes charge and provides an amplification of the secondary electron signal. and some can tilt an object of that size to 45°. Additionally. An alternative to coating for some biological samples is to increase the bulk conductivity of the material by impregnation with osmium using variants of the OTO staining method (O-osmium. they usually coated with an ultrathin coating of electrically conducting material. Environmental SEM instruments place the specimen in a relatively highpressure chamber where the working distance is short and the electron optical column differentially pumped to keep vacuum adequately low at the electron gun. platinum. deposited on the sample either by low-vacuum sputter coating or by high-vacuum evaporation. Conductive materials in current use for specimen coating include gold. graphite . and iridium. specimens must be electrically conductive. at least at the surface. chromium. For conventional imaging in the SEM. . Nonconductive specimens tend to charge when scanned by the electron beam. and especially in secondary electron imaging mode.

2 keV to 40 keV.small spot size even at low accelerating potentials. image magnification in the SEM is not a function of the power of the objective lens. thereby allowing it to be heated for electron emission. the atomic number of the specimen and the specimen's density. each of which can be detected by specialized detectors. Each pixel of computer video memory synchronized with the position of the beam on the specimen in the microscope. which typically has an energy ranging from 0. a SEM could in principle work entirely without condenser or . The beam current absorbed by the specimen also detected and used to create images of the distribution of specimen current. on a cathode ray tube). The beam passes through pairs of scanning coils or pairs of deflector plates in the electron column. Tungsten normally used in thermionic electron guns because it has the highest melting point and lowest vapor pressure of all metals. In older microscopes image may be captured by photography from a highresolution cathode ray tube.3–4 kV. Electronic amplifiers of various types used to amplify the signals. The energy exchange between the electron beam and the sample results in the reflection of high-energy electrons by elastic scattering. which displayed as variations in brightness on a computer monitor (or. which can be used in a standard tungsten filament SEM if the vacuum system is upgraded and FEG. and because of its low cost. and the resulting image is therefore a distribution map of the intensity of the signal emitted from the scanned area of the specimen. When the primary electron beam interacts with the sample. The electron beam. Unlike optical and transmission electron microscopes. which deflect the beam in the x and y axes so that it scans in a raster fashion over a rectangular area of the sample surface. SEMs may have condenser and objective lenses.4 nm to 5 nm in diameter. Magnification Magnification in a SEM can be controlled over a range of up to 6 orders of magnitude from about 10 to 500. Provided the electron gun can generate a beam with sufficiently small diameter. The size of the interaction volume depends on the electron's landing energy. emission of secondary electrons by inelastic scattering and the emission of electromagnetic radiation. is focused by one or two condenser lenses to a spot about 0. Operating conditions to prevent charging of non-conductive specimens must adjust such that the incoming beam current was equal to sum of out coming secondary and backscattered electrons currents. but in modern machines image is saved to a computer data storage. which may be of the coldcathode type using tungsten single crystal emitters or the thermally assisted Scotty type. an electron beam thermionically emitted from an electron gun fitted with a tungsten filament cathode. using emitters of zirconium oxide. Scanning process and image formation In a typical SEM. Embedding in a resin with further polishing to a mirror-like finish can use for both biological and materials specimens when imaging in backscattered electrons or when doing quantitative X-ray microanalysis. which extends from less than 100 nm to around 5 µm into the surface. and not to image the specimen. Other types of electron emitters include lanthanum hexa-boride (LaB6) cathodes. typically in the final lens.000 times. the electrons lose energy by repeated random scattering and absorption within a teardrop-shaped volume of the specimen known as the interaction volume. but their function is to focus the beam to a spot. for vintage models. It usually occurs at accelerating voltages of 0.

The secondary electrons are first collected by attracting them towards an electrically biased grid at about +400 V. these electrons originate within a few nanometers from the sample surface. or the voltage supplied to the x. as in scanning. so that differences in the distribution of the various components of the specimen can be seen clearly and compared. often by the use of multiple detectors. Due to their low energy. y deflector plates. and can provide several items of data at each pixel. with the results usually rendered as black-and-white images. Some types of detectors used in SEM have analytical capabilities.000 V. so that the specimen's structure and composition can be compared. and generally does not add information about the specimen. and vice versa. and not by objective lens power. A pair of backscattered electron detectors can obtain the attributes of topography and material contrast and such attributes can be superimposed on a single color image by assigning a different primary color to each attribute. The accelerated secondary electrons are now sufficiently energetic to cause the scintillator to emit flashes of light (Cathodoluminescence). However. In some configurations more information is gathered per pixel. which is not modified in any way. which is a type of scintillator-photomultiplier system. Optionally. Examples are the Energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDS) detectors used in elemental analysis and Cathodoluminescence microscope (CL) systems that analyze the intensity and spectrum of electron-induced luminescence in (for example) geological specimens. Magnification is therefore controlled by the current supplied to the x.objective lenses. In a SEM. a combination of backscattered and secondary electron signals can be assigned to different colors and superimposed on a single color micrograph displaying simultaneously the properties of the specimen. higher magnification results from reducing the size of the raster on the specimen. the standard secondary electron image can be merged with the one or more compositional channels. often these images are then colorized with feature-detection software. Assuming that the display screen has a fixed size. This is usually for aesthetic effect or for clarifying structure. magnification results from the ratio of the dimensions of the raster on the specimen and the raster on the display device. Such images can be made while maintaining the full integrity of the original signal. although it might not be very versatile or achieve very high resolution. Similarly. y scanning coils. The electrons are detected by an Everhart-Thornley detector. and then further accelerated towards a phosphor or scintillator positively biased to about +2. or simply by hand-editing using a graphics editor. In SEM systems. Detection of secondary electrons The most common imaging mode collects low-energy (<50 eV) secondary electrons that are ejected from the k-orbital’s of the specimen atoms by inelastic scattering interactions with beam electrons. using these detectors it is common to color code the signals and superimpose them in a single color image. which are conducted to a photomultiplier outside the SEM column via a light pipe and a window in the wall of the specimen chamber. The amplified electrical signal output by the photomultiplier is displayed as a two-dimensional intensity . Color The most common configuration for an SEM produces a single value per pixel.

the "escape" distance of one side of the beam will decrease.distribution that can be viewed and photographed on an analogue video display. then the activated region is uniform about the axis of the beam and a certain number of electrons "escape" from within the sample. threedimensional appearance. directional BSE detector. Detection of backscattered electrons Backscattered electrons (BSE) consist of high-energy electrons originating in the electron beam that are reflected or back-scattered out of the specimen interaction volume by elastic scattering interactions with specimen atoms. which results in images with a well-defined.[28] The Everhart-Thornley detector. strong topographic contrast is produced by collecting back-scattered electrons from one side above the specimen using an asymmetrical. the resulting contrast appears as illumination of the topography from that side. If the beam enters the sample perpendicular to the surface. Since heavy elements (high atomic number) backscatter electrons more strongly than light elements (low atomic number). BSE detectors are usually either of scintillator or of semiconductor types. concentric with the electron beam. Application SEMs have a variety of applications in a number of scientific and industry-related fields.  SEMs can be as essential research tool in fields such as life science. measurement of fractal dimension. This process relies on a raster-scanned primary beam. . medical and forensic science. corrosion measurement and height step measurement. and metallurgy. is inefficient for the detection of backscattered electrons because few such electrons are emitted in the solid angle subtended by the detector. maximizing the solid angle of collection. However. As the angle of incidence increases. atomic number contrast is produced. The brightness of the signal depends on the number of secondary electrons reaching the detector. which is normally positioned to one side of the specimen. BSE are used to detect contrast between areas with different chemical compositions. and thus appear brighter in the image. Thus steep surfaces and edges tend to be brighter than flat surfaces. Semiconductor detectors can be made in radial segments that can be switched in or out to control the type of contrast produced and its directionality. Possible applications are roughness measurement. Using the signal of secondary electrons image resolution less than 0. When all parts of the detector are used to collect electrons symmetrically about the beam. especially where characterizations of solid materials is beneficial. biology. The following examples of using an SEM. and more secondary electrons will be emitted. or subjected to analog and displayed and saved as a digital image. and because the positively biased detection grid has little ability to attract the higher energy BSE electrons. gemology. Backscattered electrons can also be used to form an electron backscatter diffraction (EBSD) image that can be used to determine the crystallographic structure of the specimen.5 nm is possible. Dedicated backscattered electron detectors are positioned above the sample in a "doughnut" type arrangement.

          Observing the microstructure of the material surface before and after processing to find the effect of drying on the product microstructure. note the laminar structure of the corrosion layer. most SEM samples require minimal preparation actions. currents to electromagnetic coils and circulation of cool water. the technological advances in modern SEMs allow for the generation of data in digital form. deformation and folding during drying process. In addition. The SEM is used extensively for capturing detailed images of micro and macrofossils.  SEMs are expensive. Advantage Advantages of a Scanning Electron Microscope include its wide-array of applications. Disadvantage The disadvantages of a Scanning Electron Microscope start with the size and cost. SEM image of the corrosion layer on the surface of an ancient glass fragment. SEMs cover a range from light microscopy up to the magnifications available with a TEM. SEMs are also easy to operate with the proper training and advances in computer technology and associated software make operation user-friendly. large and must be housed in an area free of any possible electric. These SEMs are important in the semiconductor industry for their high-resolution capabilities.  Special training is required to operate an SEM as well as prepare samples. The negative impact can be minimized with knowledgeable experience researchers being able to identify . Although all samples must be prepared before placed in the vacuum chamber. Museums use SEMs for studying valuable artifacts in a nondestructive manner. This is an older and noisy micrograph of a common subject for SEM micrographs.  The preparation of samples can result in artifacts. BSE and EDS analyses in less than five minutes. often completing SEI. Thermal and moisture gradients can cause call wall disruption.     The detailed three-dimensional and topographical imaging and the versatile information garnered from different detectors. SEM is used in measuring the image of a house fly compound surface. SEM image of normal circulating human blood.  Maintenance involves keeping a steady voltage. This instrument works fast. magnetic or vibration interference. Backscattered electron (BSE) image of an antimony-rich region in a fragment of ancient glass.

which should eliminate the chance of radiation escaping the chamber. Finally. SEMs are limited to solid. . The sample chamber is designed to prevent any electrical and magnetic interference. There is no absolute way to eliminate or identify all potential artifacts.   artifacts from actual data as well as preparation skill. inorganic samples small enough to fit inside the vacuum chamber that can handle moderate vacuum pressure. SEMs carry a small risk of radiation exposure associated with the electrons that scatter from beneath the sample surface. SEM operators and researchers are advised to observe safety precautions. In addition. Even though the risk is minimal.

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