Portable Scanning Electron Microscopes: Pioneering New Applications

Portable Scanning Electron Microscopes: Pioneering New Applications

Instrumental chemical analysis and portability are not often associated with one another. The ability to record the full elemental fingerprint of a sample or to map three-dimensional topographical features down to the nanoscale is typically associated with large-format permanent fixtures like scanning electron microscopes (SEMs), or at best bulky instruments that can be carried about on location with relative degrees of ease.

Yet there is a growing need to access scientific data in-the-field. Manufacturers of scientific devices continue to address this need with portable optical emission spectrometers (OES) for metals analysis, or handheld X-ray fluorescence (XRF) devices for on-line elemental analysis. To date, however, there has been limited success integrating the same level of mobility to the analytical workhorse that is scanning electron microscopy.

Implications of Truly Portable Scanning Electron Microscopes

Significant strides have been made towards portable scanning electron microscopes, however. Compact SEMs that fit on a standard laboratory work surface have introduced a level of portability to scanning electron microscopy that was previously impossible.

Conventional scanning electron microscopes rely on expensive and – admittedly – huge instrumentation to magnify samples at a ranges exceeding x1,000,000. This unprecedented resolution is exceptional, but actually exceeds the requirements of many applications that could benefit from magnifications in the six-digit range—still a vast improvement over conventional microscopy. Consequently, more accessibly-priced portable scanning electron microscopes that provide magnifications approaching something like x200,000 could realistically pioneer new applications for users who have effectively been priced out, or don’t have the space to justify the installation of a traditional SEM system.

Currently, two main areas stand to benefit most from the application of portable scanning electron microscopes: analytical inspection, and electron-beam (E-beam) lithography. For instance, today’s nanofabrication processes based on E-beam lithography rely on traditional scanning electron microscopy for quality control and assurance (QA/QC) processes. Providing a compact SEM solution with high magnifications and nanoscale resolutions at low acceleration voltages would be an enormous boon for new adopters and established users of E-beam lithographic workflows. Read our article about what exactly is driving the demand for portable SEMs for more details on this subject. 

Portable Scanning Electron Microscopes from EOI

At Electron Optics Instruments, we supply a range of compact SEMs designed to satisfy the needs of users requiring a small-scale yet high-power scanning electron microscopy solution. The Cube II Scanning Electron Microscope puts ease of mobility front-and-center, weighing just 70kg and featuring a miniaturized installation area. It can be easily repositioned as required and installed in temporary/semi-permanent workstations on-site if needs be.

Even novice users can operate the Cube II with ease, achieving rapid analyses in minutes. Contact a member of the EOI team today if you would like to learn more about the new applications that our compact SEMs are facilitating.