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Article · January 2004


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4 authors, including:

Ioan Vida-Simiti Ionel Chicinas

Universitatea Tehnica Cluj-Napoca Universitatea Tehnica Cluj-Napoca


Gabriel Batin
Universitatea Tehnica Cluj-Napoca


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Technical University of Cluj-Napoca, Romania
Received May 28, 2004

Among the techniques of electron microscopy, scanning electron microscopy

(SEM) represents a high-performance method of investigating structures and devices
in the domain of nanometer dimensions.
This paper is a synthesis of the possible applications of SEM in the investigation
of the nanometer domain, nanomaterials and nanotechnologies. It includes the results
of the authors’ research work as well as a review of the literature regarding the study
and analysis of nanostructured materials, nanotechnologies based on SEM, and the
current trends in this cutting-edge field.
Our analysis and investigations presented in the paper represent contributions
on the studies and researches regarding to some nanostructured materials: Zn layers
electrochemically deposited, Au films deposited in vacuum, carbon nanotubes,
organic nanomaterials obtained by sol-gel method.
Key words: scanning electron microscopy, nanomaterials, nanoscience, nano-


Starting with the last decade of the past century, terms like nanotechnology,
nanoscience, nanoparticles, nanostructures, etc. have been more and more
frequently encountered in the special literature of fundamental sciences,
engineering, biology, medicine, etc.
The objective of nanoscience and nanotechnology is to study, create or
apply materials, devices and systems that could control matter at nanometric or
even atomic dimension.
The dimensional range of development of this science and technology is
between 1–100 nm, with implications in all the fields of human activity in the
near future.
This dimensional field, as a field of development of nanoscience and
nanotechnologies, has upper and lower limits. These limits may be considered
differently in nanoscience and nanotechnology, though the causes may be the
same. In nanoscience, and especially in the case of nanomaterials, the lower limit
is conventionally set at about 1 nm (3–4 atoms exist within this distance). This is

Rom. Journ. Phys., Vol. 49, Nos. 9– 10, P. 955–965, Bucharest, 2004
956 I. Vida-Simiti et al. 2

accepted due to the fact that the limit of measurable length is about 0.3 nm
(approximately the distance between the atoms of a crystal network). Under this
measurable limit, quantic-type phenomena of position indetermination may
The upper limit, conventionally set at about 100 nm, is given by the fact
that above this limit the special properties of these types of materials do not
The modification of the properties of the nanostructured materials is
principally the consequence of the following factors:
– The number of atoms within the limits between the grains is much higher
(40–50%) than in the classical materials with polycrystalline structure;
– The appearance of quantic effects that begin to manifest within this
dimension range.
The concept of nanotechnology refers to ultraprecision processing,
construction of miniature machines in the nanometric range, molecular devices,
nanorobots, supercomputers, applications in medicine, biology, etc.
Quantic effects, non-significant at a macroscopic level, strongly affect the
material properties, the behaviour of mechanical or electronic devices in the
nanometer domain.


The development of materials and technologies in the nanometer domain

cannot be conceived without investigations based on microscopy.
The first transmission electron microscope (TEM) was devised in 1931,
then the first SEM was devised in 1965, followed by dozens of types of
microscopes devised for investigation of nanometric dimensions.
The most used types of microscopes in nanoscience and nanotechnology
are electronic, based on the interaction of the electrons with the substance
(Fig. 1), and scanning of the specimen surface (Fig. 2). The principle of
functioning, their advantages and disadvantages are presented in the following:
a) The Transmission Electron Microscope – TEM – is based on the effect
of the structural characteristics of the material to be investigated on the passage
of an accelerated electron fascicle through a very thin specimen (electrons
transmitted through the specimen, position 7, Fig. 1). The contrast of the image
obtained is given by the difference between the absorption coefficients of the
different specimen points.
– Maximal resolution is under 0.1 nm at × 106 magnitude. Thus atoms or
molecules can be visualized.
3 Applications of SEM in nanotechnology and nanoscience 957

Fig. 1. – Interaction of electrons with the substance: 1 – incident

electrons; 2 – Auger electrons; 3 – secondary electrons; 4 –
backscattered electrons; 5 – characteristic X radiation; 6 – instrument
measuring the absorbed electrons current; 7 – transmitted electrons;
8 – catodo-luminescence [1].

Fig. 2. – Diagram of a scanning probe


– The specimen shape: under 100 nm thin film.

– It may also function with electron diffraction for phase identification,
precipitates, dislocations, etc.
– Studies performed on: metallic, ceramic, plastic, biological and other
– It may perform local chemical analyses with X-ray spectrophotometry.
– Major disadvantage is that the specimen must be very thin (<100 nm),
which sometimes is difficult to achieve.
b) Scanning Electron Microscope – SEM – is based on the scanning of the
specimen surface by an electron fascicle and the analysis of the signal
(electromagnetic particles and waves) resulting from the interaction between the
primary fascicle and the specimen (positions 3, 4, 5 and 6, Fig. 1).
958 I. Vida-Simiti et al. 4

The depth at which information on the specimen is obtained ranges

between 1 nm (Auger electrons) and 5 µm (characteristic X radiation). With
SEM the contrast may be of the following types: topographic contrast, atomic
number contrast, magnetic contrast, etc.
– Maximal resolution is about 25 Å or 5 Å (field emission beam);
– Magnifying by 20–500000 times
– Atoms or molecules cannot be visualized
– Specimens must have good electrical conductivity. Those without
electrical conductivity must be covered by a metallic layer prior to examination
or examined in reduced vacuum in order to prevent electrostatic charge.
– Preparation of specimens is relatively easy as compared to TEM.
– It may be provided with an X-ray spectrophotometer for local quantitative
(composition) chemical analysis.
c) Scanning Probe Microscope – SPB – (Fig. 2). This technique was
developed starting from the conception of the Scanning Tunnelling Microscope
(in 1981) and has a number of variants at present. The system consists of a sharp
tipped probe electrode controlled by a three-dimensional (3D) positioning unit
that includes a piezoelectric element of sub-nanometric resolution and accuracy
and a laser optical device. The specimen to be examined is at a distance of about
0.1 nm. The physical magnitudes: tunnelling current, magnetic force, ionic
capacity, atomic force, friction force etc. are measures by the interaction between
atoms of the specimen and those of the probe.
SPM measures associated superficial properties by a simple but very
precise mechanical process based on the scanning of the specimen surface.
The advantages of SPM:
– images obtained are tridimensional at atomic resolution (individual
atoms may be distinguished;
– working environment: liquid, gas or vacuum;
– temperature: (1–1000 K);
– no special preparation of the specimen is required;
– contrast does not depend on the atomic number;
– no electromagnetic radiations are produced;
– surface distributions of the mechanical, electronic, optic properties may
be obtained;
– atoms may be manipulated individually in order to modify the surface
– relatively low cost as compared to the other types of microscope.
The disadvantages of SPM:
– low speed of image obtainment (about 30 seconds);
5 Applications of SEM in nanotechnology and nanoscience 959

– danger of surface deterioration because of the strong forces at the

contact between the specimen and the probe tip;
– local chemical analyses cannot be performed directly.
If the interatomic forces between the specimen and the probe is measured,
the SPM is called an Atomic Force Microscope. AFM types provide information
regarding the surface topography, elasticity mode, behaviour at friction,
magnetic structure, electrostatic, magnetic and Van de Waals forces, etc.



Some of the examples of application presented in the form of

microphotographs are taken from literature, while others represent research work
undertaken at the Department of the Materials Science and Technology,
Laboratory of Electron Microscopy of the Cluj-Napoca Technical University.
The second group of examinations were performed using the SEM type
Jeol 5600 LV, which has the following characteristic features:
– 3.5 nm resolution with secondary electrons;
– × 300,000 magnitude;
– examination of non-conductive specimens (ceramic, biological, medical
etc.) in reduced vacuum (up to 130 Pa) with backscattered electrons (maximal
magnitude × 5000);
– local quantitative chemical analysis based on the characteristic X-ray
spectrum for component elements ranging between Bor and Uranium, with
0.01% detection limits.


Subsequently we made report on the images that represent our investigations

on the nanostructured materials. For the other applications examples there are
data below the figures.
Fig. 4 presents the image of Au film obtained by vacuum deposition. One
can observe discreet structural formations having dimensions below 40 nm.
Figs. 5 and 6 present the microscopically and compositional analysis of a
Zn layer deposited by electrolytic process. There were obtained nanostructured
systems with dimensions ranged between 100 and 300 nm, for anticorrosive
In Figs. 7 and 8 one can observe the nanoastructures of about 100 nm of
some compounds based on gold deposited on ceramic substrate.
960 I. Vida-Simiti et al. 6

Fig. 9. – Carbon nanotubes (examination in the Fig. 10. – Carbon nanotubes, high resolution
Electron Microscopy Laboratory, Cluj-Napoca SEM micrograph (Jeol 7400 F micro-
Technical University). scope) [5].

Fig. 11. – Organic nanomaterial processed by Fig. 12. – Nanomaterial processed by the sol-gel
the sol-gel method (examination in the Electron method (examination in the Electron Microscopy
Microscopy Laboratory, Cluj-Napoca Technical Laboratory, Cluj-Napoca Technical
University). University).

Fig. 13. – Au/Pd bi-layered

metallic nanotubes: 1 – general
view; 2a, 2b – details [8].
7 Applications of SEM in nanotechnology and nanoscience 961

The shape and dimensions from nanometrically field of some carbon

nanotubes one can observe in the images presented in Figs. 9 and 10.
Organic nanomaterials obtained by sol-gel method were investigated in the
nanometrically range for different magnitudes and resolutions (Figs. 11 and 12).

Fig. 14. – Polymer nanotubes, longer than 100 µm and pores diameter
between 300 and 900 nm [11].


Fig. 15. – Electrostatic nano-device [3]. Fig. 16. – Nano-manipulator with thermal
activation [4].
962 I. Vida-Simiti et al. 8

Fig. 17. – Gripper (115 nm size) for a nanorobot Fig. 18. – Porous silica film with applications in
obtained by the CVD procedure and processed separations, catalysis, sensors etc. [10].
with ion fascicle [3].

Fig. 19. – Culture of rat cortical neurons on a silicon plate for

biocompatibility studies [9].
9 Applications of SEM in nanotechnology and nanoscience 963

Fig. 20. – Optical network for X rays manufactured by Fig. 21. – CoNi cylinders obtained by nano-
nanolithography [12]. lithography and electro-depositing for magnetic
registration media [6].


– Future progress in the field of nanoscience and nanotechnologies is not

possible without including the investigation methods provided by electron
– The scanning electron microscopic methods make possible the overall
examination of nanomaterials and nanodevices.
– The scanning electron microscopy (SEM), using EDS or WDS types
X-ray analysers, allow local composition analyses and the distribution of
elements on the surface examined.
– Preparation of specimens is relatively easy as compared to other
microscopic methods.
964 I. Vida-Simiti et al. 10

– Examination of specimens is much faster as compared to SPM, STM,

AFM or other methods.
– The specimen surface does not deteriorate during the microscopic
– Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) is complementary to other types of
microscopic investigation.


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3. Brian D. Jensen, Shaped Comb Fingers for Tailored Electromechanical Restoring Force,
Journal Of Microelectromechanical Systems, Vol. 12, No. 3, p. 373, (2003).
4. Xuefeng Wang, Loren Vincent, Minfeng Yu, A Thermally Actuated Three-Probe
Nanomanipulator for Efficient Handling of Individual Nanostructures, Micro Electro
Mechanical Systems, 17 th IEEE Int Conf., (2004), p. 442–445.
5. ***, Materialstoday, January, p. 12 (2003).
6. A. Ross, M. Hwang, M. Shima, Micromagnetic Behavior of Electrodeposited Cylinder Arrays,
Physical Review B, Vol. 65, p. 14–17 (2002).
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8. Lahav et. al., Nanoparticle Nanotubes, Angew. Chem. Int. Ed., Vol. 42, p. 5576–5579 (2003).
9. P. Gould, EU Firms up Funding Scheme, Materialstoday, p. 48–52, April (2004).
10. R. A. Pai et al.,Templates and Mesoporous Films, Science, p. 303–307 (2004).
11. ***, Polymer Nanotubes from Porous Templates, Materialstoday, p. 4, September (2002).
12. M. L. Schattenburg, Nanofabricated Metal Transmission Gratings, Space Nano-technology
Workshop, Tsukuba, Japan, November 27 (2001).
Fig. 3. Silver nanotubes [7]. Fig. 4. – Gold layer in vacuum, particles between
40–400 nm (examination in the Electron Micro-
scopy Laboratory, Cluj-Napoca Technical

Fig. 5. – Zn layer deposited by electrolysis, Fig. 6. – X-ray radiation spectrum of the Zn

100–300 nm nanostructures (examination in the layer (examination in the Electron Microscopy
Electron Microscopy Laboratory, Cluj-Napoca Laboratory, Cluj-Napoca Technical
Technical University). University).

Fig. 7. – Gold layer deposited on faience plate, Fig. 8. – X-ray spectrum of the gold layer (exami-
nanostructures of approximately 100 nm (exami- nation in the Electron Microscopy Laboratory,
nation in the Electron Microscopy Laboratory, Cluj-Napoca Technical University).
Cluj-Napoca Technical University).

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