SEM – Scanning Electron Microscopy

Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) is a surface analysis technique used to determine surface features of sub-micron size particles. Smaller working scales of materials used in various industries like microelectronics has allowed SEM to play a role in applications like semiconductor inspections, microchip assembly, failure analysis, and quality control.


Introduction to Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) 

Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) is a widely used technique for observing the surface morphology of materials. SEM is employed in the analysis of surface fractures, surface contaminants, microstructures, crystalline structures, and spatial variations in chemical compositions of material samples. An SEM image produced from the intensity of back-scattered electrons and the beam position shows the distribution of different elements in the test sample. Heavier elements reflect more electrons and appear brighter in the image, so back-scattered electrons can show contrasts in chemical composition.

SEM uses a focused beam of electrons, which is reflected or knocks off the surface or near-surface of the sample to generate high-resolution images. The electron beam interacts with atoms at different depths within the sample to produce different signals, including secondary electrons, back-scattered electrons, and characteristic X-rays; each of these signals are detected by different detectors installed in a scanning electron microscope. Different SEM images can be produced based on the type of detector being used, and these images can be used to see what the sample looks like on the nanoscale. Secondary and backscattered electron detectors are used to capture these interactions, which in turn visualize the morphological and topographical information about the sample. Backscattered electron images are also used for the rapid discrimination of the phases in multiphase samples.

SEM Image of SiO2

Uses of Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM)

SEM is successfully used in the identification of cracks, imperfections, and contaminants on the surface of coated products; analysis of particle size and shape in cosmetic formulations; assessment of nanoparticles in coatings and paints; topographical analysis of the semiconductor wafers; failure analysis of integrated circuit boards and analysis of gunshot residue for forensic investigation.

SEM is also used in the structural analysis of new species of microscopic organisms like bacteria and viruses and in testing new vaccinations and medicines.

Strengths of Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) Technique

This easy-to-operate technique offers easy sample preparation steps as the sample does not need to be thin. In this technique with user-friendly interfaces, data acquisition is rapid and in the digital form where high resolution (up to 15 nanometers) and three-dimensional (3D) images are obtained.

Limitations of Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) Technique

This technique needs a solid sample that fits into the microscope chamber. Electrically insulating samples need the application of an electrically conductive coating. The EDS detector on SEM fails to detect very light elements (H, He, and Li), and many instruments are unable to detect elements with atomic numbers less than 11. SEM instruments need to be placed in an area that is free of any possible magnetic, electric, or vibration interferences.

Related Techniques

Transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and Atomic force microscopy (AFM) provide similar data about a sample. An Energy Dispersive X-ray Spectroscopy (EDS) detector within SEM is used in the testing labs to detect the characteristic X-rays and provide qualitative and quantitative elemental analysis of the sample.

FIB-SEM is another variant of SEM, which provides 2D elemental mapping and 3D reconstruction of samples. Another variant, environmental SEM (ESEM), is available for analyzing the samples containing water or other volatile substances.


Where can I get the sem tested?

You can share your sem testing requirements with MaTestLab. MaTestLab has a vast network of material testing laboratories, spread across the USA and Canada. We support your all material testing needs ranging from specific sem test to various testing techniques.

How much do I need to pay for the sem test?

Please contact us for a detailed quote for your sem testing needs. Cost incurred to carry out different sem testing methodology depends on the type of raw material; number of samples, coupons, or specimens; test conditions, turn around time etc. Costs of some ASTM testing methods start from $100 and the final value depends upon the factors listed above. Please contact us for the best and latest prices.

How many samples are required for sem?

The required number of samples or specimens should comply with the procedure given in the sem standard. However, the MaTestLab operations team can assist you for your special requirements once you share your testing details with us.

How much discount can I get on the sem test?

MaTestLab has a vast testing laboratory network, hence we bring you the best testing facilities in a cost-effective way. We offer considerable discounts (15-20%) to our returning customers based on test volume and frequency.

How many days will it take to complete the sem test?

The turnaround time for sem test methodology depends upon the test procedure mentioned in the standard test document. However, we at MaTestLab understand your research requirements and hence try to get your test completed within the least possible time.

Where can I get the sem tested?

You can share your sem testing requirements with MaTestLab. MaTestLab has a vast network of material testing laboratories, spread across the USA and Canada. We support your all material testing needs ranging from specific sem test to various testing techniques.

MaTestLab Inc. offers accessible, quick, and affordable material testing, product testing, and failure analysis services. We support your on-demand testing and expert consultation needs with the help of our extensive network of material testing laboratories situated in the US and other parts of the world.
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