The scanning electron microscope is a type of electron microscope that images the sample surface by scanning it with a high-energy beam of electrons in a raster scan pattern. Scanning Electron Microscopes (SEM) are used for inspecting topographies of materials with a magnification range that encompasses that of optical microscopy and extends it to the nanoscale. The electrons interact with the atoms that make up the sample producing signals that contain information about the sample's surface topography, composition and other properties such as electrical conductivity. The scanning electron microscope produces different types of signals which include secondary electrons, back-scattered electrons (BSE), characteristic X-rays, light (cathodoluminescence), specimen current and transmitted electrons. These signals result from interactions of the electron beam with atoms at or near the surface of the sample.
Scanning electron microscope 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 microscopes.
In a typical Scanning electron microscope (SEM), an electron beam is thermionically emitted from an electron gun fitted with a tungsten filament cathode. Tungsten is normally used in thermionic electron guns because it has the highest melting point and lowest vapour pressure of all metals, thereby allowing it to be heated for electron emission, and because of its low cost. Other types of electron emitters include lanthanum hexaboride (LaB6) cathodes, which can be used in a standard tungsten filament SEM if the vacuum system is upgraded and field emission guns (FEG), which may be of the cold-cathode type using tungsten single crystal emitters or the thermally-assisted Schottky type, using emitters of zirconium oxide.
Magellan Scanning Electron Microscope