Scanning electron microscopes (SEMs) are renowned for yielding spectacular imagery at scales far exceeding the magnifying capacities of conventional light-based microscopy. The resolution offered by SEM systems provides fascinating insights into sub-microscale structures, allowing us to observe features within a few nanometres (nm) of one another—which often yields images that are nothing short of mesmerising.
A microscopist at the University of Aberdeen won an artistic award for capturing a highly-detailed rendering of a tiny moth fly using an SEM system. False-coloured scanning electron micrographs of caffeine crystals, lavender leaves, loperamide crystals, and more have also been commended for their artistic value as much as their scientific merit.
But is this aesthetic frontier of microscopy exclusive to large research facilities with the budget and space to justify the installation of a bulky SEM system?
The Inherent Value of Compact SEMs
In a recent article we wrote that value is relative. Large-scale SEMs represent an enormous investment that can range up to $1 million USD upfront. Compact SEMs designed to fit on a standard worktop were initially engineered to give budget-conscious users a watered-down version of scanning electron microscopy. They were neither as powerful as full-scale SEM systems nor could they offer the same level of resolution.
Modern compact SEMs have changed that dynamic so that smaller systems offer comparable levels of performance to their bulkier counterparts.
Read More: The Benefits of Small SEM Systems
For example: the Genesis Scanning Electron Microscope Series is an affordable range of compact SEMs based on secondary electron and backscattered electron detection. They use a pre-centred tungsten filament electron source with a fully automated evacuation system that is vacuum-ready within three minutes of initiation. This enables users to rapidly image samples at a range of x10 – x300,000 for resolutions approaching 3 nm (SE detection) and 5 nm (BSE detection).
These compact SEM systems allow users to capture extremely detailed images using a range of programmable features with comparable resolving power to much larger systems. This allows users with constricted spaces and budget constraints to capture vivid nanoscale images that may double as miniscule works of art.
[Source: Smithsonian Magazine]