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The scanning electron microscope (SEM) is a very useful imaging technique that utilized a beam of electrons to acquire high magnification images of specimens. Very similar to the transmission electron microscope (TEM), the SEM maps the reflected electrons and allows imaging of thick (~mm) samples, whereas the TEM requires extremely thin specimens for imaging; however, the SEM has lower magnifications. Although both SEM and TEM use an electron beam, the image is formed very differently and users should be aware of when each microscope is advantageous.

Microscopy physics

Image formation

All microscopes serve to enlarge the size of an object and allow people to view smaller regions within the sample. Microscopes form optical images and although instruments like the SEM have extremely high magnifications, the physics of the image formation are very basic. The simplest magnification lens can be seen in [link] . The formula for magnification is shown in [link] , where M is magnification, f is focal length, u is the distance between object and lens, and v is distance from lens to the image.

M = f u f = v f f size 12{M= { {f} over {u - f} } = { {v - f} over {f} } } {}
Basic microscope diagram illustrating inverted image and distances u , f , and v .

Multistage microscopes can amplify the magnification of the original object even more as shown in [link] . Where magnification is now calculated from [link] , where f 1 , f 2 are focal distances with respect to the first and second lens and v 1 , v 2 are the distances from the lens to the magnified image of first and second lens, respectively.

M = ( v 1 f 1 ) ( v 2 f 2 ) f 1 f 2 size 12{M= { { \( v rSub { size 8{1} } - f rSub { size 8{1} } \) \( v rSub { size 8{2} } - f rSub { size 8{2} } \) } over {f rSub { size 8{1} } f rSub { size 8{2} } } } } {}
A schematic diagram of the optics used in a multistage microscope.

In reality, the objects we wish to magnify need to be illuminated. Whether or not the sample is thin enough to transmit light divides the microscope into two arenas. SEM is used for samples that do not transmit light, whereas the TEM (transmission electron microscope) requires transparent samples. Due to the many frequencies of light from the introduced source, a condenser system is added to control the brightness and narrow the range of viewing to reduce aberrations, which distort the magnified image.

Electron microscopes

Microscope images can be formed instantaneous (as in the optical microscope or TEM) or by rastering (scanning) a beam across the sample and forming the image point-by-point. The latter is how SEM images are formed. It is important to understand the basic principles behind SEM that define properties and limitations of the image.


The resolution of a microscope is defined as the smallest distance between two features that can be uniquely identified (also called resolving power). There are many limits to the maximum resolution of the SEM and other microscopes, such as imperfect lenses and diffraction effects. Each single beam of light, once passed through a lens, forms a series of cones called an airy ring (see [link] ). For a given wavelength of light, the central spot size is inversely proportional to the aperture size (i.e., large aperture yields small spot size) and high resolution demands a small spot size.

Questions & Answers

anyone know any internet site where one can find nanotechnology papers?
Damian Reply
Introduction about quantum dots in nanotechnology
Praveena Reply
what does nano mean?
Anassong Reply
nano basically means 10^(-9). nanometer is a unit to measure length.
do you think it's worthwhile in the long term to study the effects and possibilities of nanotechnology on viral treatment?
Damian Reply
absolutely yes
how to know photocatalytic properties of tio2 nanoparticles...what to do now
Akash Reply
it is a goid question and i want to know the answer as well
characteristics of micro business
for teaching engĺish at school how nano technology help us
Do somebody tell me a best nano engineering book for beginners?
s. Reply
there is no specific books for beginners but there is book called principle of nanotechnology
what is fullerene does it is used to make bukky balls
Devang Reply
are you nano engineer ?
fullerene is a bucky ball aka Carbon 60 molecule. It was name by the architect Fuller. He design the geodesic dome. it resembles a soccer ball.
what is the actual application of fullerenes nowadays?
That is a great question Damian. best way to answer that question is to Google it. there are hundreds of applications for buck minister fullerenes, from medical to aerospace. you can also find plenty of research papers that will give you great detail on the potential applications of fullerenes.
what is the Synthesis, properties,and applications of carbon nano chemistry
Abhijith Reply
Mostly, they use nano carbon for electronics and for materials to be strengthened.
is Bucky paper clear?
carbon nanotubes has various application in fuel cells membrane, current research on cancer drug,and in electronics MEMS and NEMS etc
so some one know about replacing silicon atom with phosphorous in semiconductors device?
s. Reply
Yeah, it is a pain to say the least. You basically have to heat the substarte up to around 1000 degrees celcius then pass phosphene gas over top of it, which is explosive and toxic by the way, under very low pressure.
Do you know which machine is used to that process?
how to fabricate graphene ink ?
for screen printed electrodes ?
What is lattice structure?
s. Reply
of graphene you mean?
or in general
in general
Graphene has a hexagonal structure
On having this app for quite a bit time, Haven't realised there's a chat room in it.
what is biological synthesis of nanoparticles
Sanket Reply
what's the easiest and fastest way to the synthesize AgNP?
Damian Reply
types of nano material
abeetha Reply
I start with an easy one. carbon nanotubes woven into a long filament like a string
many many of nanotubes
what is the k.e before it land
what is the function of carbon nanotubes?
I'm interested in nanotube
what is nanomaterials​ and their applications of sensors.
Ramkumar Reply
Berger describes sociologists as concerned with
Mueller Reply
advantages of NAA
Sai Reply
how I can reaction of mercury?
Sham Reply

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