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History of the SEM

Charles Oatley

The first SEM, 1951

The first commercial SEM, Stereoscan
S1 1965
Modern SEM
electron gun

Depth of Focus
The larger the aperture used, the smaller the depth of focus (the same as the
aperture in a camera). This can be useful to distinguish objects at different heights.
Depth of Depth of
focus focus

Limit of acceptable blurring

In the SEM, the depth of focus
can be high (~ 1 – 2 mm) and
therefore it is possible to
observe rough surfaces, e.g.
fracture surfaces whilst
keeping most of the surface in

Smaller Objective Aperture

(In a TEM, the apertures and specimen thicknesses are such that usually the whole specimen thickness is in
focus. However with the advent of CS correctors, larger apertures can be used and soon depth of focus will
become a relevant consideration.)
X-rays Backscattered
electrons, h

electrons, d

Schematic diagram showing some of the signals

that may be detected in a SEM.

detector housed
in here

Inside the SEM

(5) Resolution: 1nm at 200 eV with FE-SEM compared to
20 nm at 5 keV with SEM
• Thermionic emission Temp high
Energy spread 3 eV 
coherency decrease

• LaB6 temp much reduced  Energy

spread 1.5 eV 

• Cold field mission  small source and

low temp  0.3 eV
Topographic Image Compositional Image
4.4 Secondary electron emission
• Secondary electron emission efficiency, greater than 1, may
reach several hundreds.
• Signals from two components: (1) incident beam at the surface
with a resolution limited by the probe diameter; (2) backscattered
electrons with larger volumes
• While BSE energy just below the incident beam energy, SE
energy peaks between 10-50 eV, up to 200 eV, detected by a low-
bias voltage, high collection efficiency (~ 100%)

• The SE escape distance is

Ps = exp (-r/Ls)
Ps is the probability of escape; Ls
is the mean free path of SE; high
Z, Ls ~ 2nm; for low Z, such as
Ls ~ 23 nm for MgO
Detectors in the SEM: Secondary Electron Detector
• The secondary electron signal is the
most widely used and is detected
using an Everhardt-Thornley
detector, which is based on a
scintillator-photomultiplier system
• The energy of the secondary
electrons is too low to be detected
directly, and therefore they are
accelerated by applying a bias of ~
+10 kV to a thin Al film on the
• A collector grid which is biased to
~200 V is also used to attract the
secondary electrons
Schematic diagram of an Everhardt-Thornley SE
• This collector screens the detector, showing the paths of SE and BSE [Goodhew
scintillator from the incident beam et al.]

and improves the collection

efficiency of the detector.
• Factors affecting secondary emission
Typical of a few eV; only
a carbonaceous layer is
sufficient to obscure all
effects related to work
Z ↑  backscatter coefficient R ↑  more secondaries
Types of Imaging: Topographic Imaging
Topographic images

In direct light, 3-D objects viewed by the

human eye appear with strong shadowing and
little representation of the 3-D form.

In diffuse light, 3-D objects appear with more

levels of light, and the 3-D form is revealed
with more detail.

These two ways in which objects are viewed by

the human eye are analogous to imaging
topographic information in the SEM

Direct light  Backscattered electrons

Diffuse light  Secondary electrons

Viewing a 3-D object using the human eye with (a) diffuse
and (b) direct light. Viewing the same object in the SEM
with (c) secondary electrons and (d) backscattered electrons.
(a)  (c) and (b)  (d)
[Goodhew et al.]
• In-lens SE detector: only collects the
SE from the primary beam (SE1) and
exclude those from the BSE (SE2)
generation, improving the spatial
resolution from 20-50 nm to 1-2 nm.

• In-lens BSE detector also improve

the resolution by collecting BSE with
only few inelastic scattering (BSE1)
and exclude those from multiple
scattering (BSE2)
• Secondary Electron Image Contrast

depending on work function, or only those generated in

the surface region can escape
• That means lower beam
voltage, more SE in the surface
region, optimum at 200eV with
best contrast and resolution

• Low beam energy can also

avoid charging problem