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Glossary

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Accelerating Voltage
An operational term describing the voltage applied to the electron microscope that accelerates the electron beam down the column.
Angstrom
A measurement of size: 10-10 meters. One tenth of a nanometer. Also spelled ångström.
Aperture
In electron microscopy: a minute hole in a strip of metal that is placed in the path of the electron beam in order to restrict or limit electron progress down the machine column. An aperture stops off-axis or off-energy electrons.
Astigmatism
Asymmetrical beam distortions that cause blurring of an image so that it appears out of focus even when focus is correctly set. Astigmatism can be corrected by adjustment of the beam in two directions, at right angles to one another.
Atomic number (Z)
The number of protons, and also electrons, that the atoms of an element contain. In the Periodic Table of the Elements, elements are arranged in order of increasing atomic number.
Auger electrons
Secondary electrons emitted from atoms in the sample as a result of inner shell ionisations due to bombardment by the primary electron beam.
Backscattered Electron Image (BEI)
The image that is obtained from backscattered electrons that are reflected from a specimen. The BEI image is dependent on surface topography and average atomic number of specimen.
Backscattered Electrons (BSE)
Produced through an elastic scattering interaction with the atoms in the sample that results in the primary electron being re-emitted from the specimen. The electron is said to have backscattered (or reflected back) from the sample. In backscattering, the electron trajectory is changed by more than 90 deg from the forward direction of motion. This results in the scattered electron propagating back in the general direction of the original beam. Note that between the multiple elastic events (that form Backscattered electrons), the beam electrons may also be involved in inelastic events, and thus reduce the electron's energy. Backscattered electrons usually have energy in the kV range.
Bremsstrahlung
This is electromagnetic radiation referred to as braking radiation (or deceleration radiation). The term comes from the German bremsen "to brake" and Strahlung "radiation". It is produced by the interaction of electrons with atoms in a sample. Bremsstrahlung has a continuous spectrum of energy (rather than discrete energy peaks). It results in the layer of "noise" underlying the discrete peaks in a spectrum of x-rays when using energy dispersive spectroscopy.
Brightness
Referring to the appearance of an image: the extent to which all parts of an image emit or reflect light. An image with very low brightness may appear black.
Cathodoluminescence (CL)
Photons with wavelengths in the visible light range produced by the interaction of the primary electron beam with semiconductor or insulating samples.
Cathodoluminescence image (CL)
The image produced by cathodoluminescence showing otherwise invisible microstructural defects and impurities.
Chamber
The space in which the sample is housed in a scanning electron microscope.
Charging
A build-up of electrons from the primary beam on the surface of non-conducting samples. The built-up charge can cause deflection of the primary beam, or discharge, which causes instability in SE images.
Coating
In electron microscopy sample coating refers to the addition of a thin (e.g. 10-20 nm) layer of metal (usually, gold, chromium, platinum or palladium) or carbon, or possibly other materials, onto the surface of the sample. This is usually done to enhance conductivity.
Column
The component of an electron microscope that houses the electron gun, electromagnetic lenses, and accessory equipment.
Compositional Contrast
Contrast from the specimen arising from local changes in surface chemistry
Condenser lens
An electromagnetic lens located just below the electron gun to focus the electron beam emitted by the filament
Conductor
A material through which electrons can move freely. Electrical conductors do not need to be coated for viewing in the scanning electron microscope.
Contrast
Referring to the appearance of an image: the extent to which various parts of an image differ in brightness.
Critical point drying (CPD)
A sample preparation technique that usually refers to the drying of a sample using carbon dioxide. At a certain temperature and pressure (31.1 degrees Celsius at 1072 psi or 304.25 K at 7.39 MPa) the point is reached where the liquid CO2 turns into gas instantaneously, leaving the sample dry.
Cryo-fixation
The application of low temperature (below the freezing point of water and often that of liquid nitrogen or liquid propane) to stabilise a biological sample so that it can be viewed in its frozen state, or further processed.
Cryo-scanning electron microscope (Cryo-SEM)
A conventional SEM that has been fitted with specific equipment that allows samples to be viewed in the frozen state.
Depth of field
The vertical distance above and below a point on a sample that is being focussed that will also be in focus in an image.
Depth of focus
The vertical distance through which the sample can be moved without affecting the sharpness of the image. This will depend on the magnification.
Detector
A device that can collect and process signals produced by interactions between the primary electron beam and the sample. Different signals are processed by different detectors.
Edge effect
The enhanced emission of electrons from the edges of the specimen resulting in brighter regions for these features in a scanning electron micrograph.
Elastic scattering
Electron scattering in which the electron changes direction through interaction with the sample but looses negligible energy. This process leads to spreading of the electron beam in the sample. See backscattered electrons.
Electromagnetic lens
Electromagnetic lenses are made of coils of copper wire enclosed in an iron shell. The magnetic field generated when a current is passed through the coils can be used to focus a beam of electrons.
Electromagnetic radiation
Energy produced by acceleration of an electric charge, and associated electric and magnetic fields.
Electron
Electrons are elementary particles, found in all atoms, that are grouped in shells around the nuclei of the atoms.
Electron Backscatter Diffraction (EBSD )
An electron microscope technique used for viewing crystallographic information based on backscattered electrons whose scattering efficiency depends on the crystallographic orientaiton of the specimen. See http://www.ebsd.com/
Electron beam
A stream of electrons (cathode rays).
Electron beam voltage
The voltage of the electron beam. A scanning electron microscope usually has the capacity to operate in a range from from 0 to 30 kilovolts (kV), and sometimes up to 40 kV.
Electron scattering
The process in which a travelling electron is deflected from its original trajectory.
Electron volt (eV)
A unit of energy equal to the amount of kinetic energy an electron gains when it is accelerated through an electric potential difference of one volt
Electron-beam lithography (E-bea)
The beam of electrons is scanned across the sample in a patterned fashion in order to remove material, not image it.
Environmental scanning electron microscope (ESEM)
A scanning electron microscope in which relative humidity, pressure and temperature can be controlled in the sample chamber.
Environmental SEM
An SEM capable of providing pressure and temperature conditions compatible with liquid water, so that wet samples can be imaged.
Evacuation
Refers to the process of pumping air out of the sample chamber of an electron microscope.
Everhart-Thornley detector
A detector, mostly used for secondary electrons, used in high-vacuum SEMs.
Exchange position
The position (X, Y and Z) of a sample stage that is used for exchanging a sample safely, into or out of a scanning electron microscope.
Field emission source
Usually a single crystal of tungsten shaped to give a sharp point of 100 nm diameter or less. Electrons are drawn from the tip by application of an electric field.
Filament
In electron microscopy this refers to the source of electrons for the electron gun: a tungsten wire, a sharpened tungsten crystal, or a lanthanum hexaboride crystal (LaB6).
Filament current
The current that is passed through the filament in the electron gun to produce the electrons for the beam.
Fixation
In sample preparation for electron microscopy this refers to the stabilisation of biological material by a physical or chemical method that stabilises or cross-links the molecular structure.
Focus
In scanning electron microscopy: The process of bringing the electron beam to its smallest diameter cross section at the sample surface. The production of a sharp, well defined image, rather than a fuzzy, blurry image.
Focused ion beam technology (FIB)
A high energy (typically 30kV) ion beam (typically gallium ions) is directed onto a hard sample and can be used for imaging or milling. Such a beam can be used in combination with the electron beam in a scanning (dual beam) electron microscope.
Freeze drying
A sample preparation technique that refers to the removal of water (in the form of ice) under vacuum.
Gate
In an electron microscope this refers to a physical component that blocks off one chamber from another: important in the correct operation of the vacuum system.
Grayscale
The range of monochrome colours that fit between pure black and pure white.
Gun
In electron microscopy: the equipment that produces an electron beam: usually an emitter (electrode), a surrounding cathode (Wehnelt cylinder/ grid cap) and below this an anode with a central hole.
High Tension (HT)
Usually a term used for the control button to turn on the electron beam or accelerating voltage.
Inelastic scattering
Electron scattering in which the electron looses energy through interaction with the sample. Inelastic scattering is considered to produce secondary electrons. Note that not all inelastic events produce secondary electrons e.g. Bremsstrahlung is an inelastic event that produces no secondary electrons.
Insulator
A material through which electrons cannot move freely. The surface of electrical insulators need to be made conductive, i.e. coated, for viewing in the SEM.
Interaction volume
The volume of the sample in which electrons from the primary electron beam spread out and interact with the atoms of the sample. The size of the interaction volume depends upon the energy of the electron beam and the average density of the sample.
Kinetic energy
The energy that an object, e.g. an electron in a beam, possesses due to its motion.
LaB filament
A thermionic electron source composed of a small block of a lanthanum hexaboride crystal. It provides greater brightness and a longer lifetime compared with a tungsten hairpin filament.
Load current
Filament current: the current that is passed through the filament in the electron gun to produce the electrons for the beam.
Low Vacuum Scanning Electron Microscope (LV-SE)
A scanning electron microscope in which pressure can be adjusted in the sample chamber.
Magnification
The enlargement of an image, or portion of an image.
Magnification range
For a scanning electron microscope this is generally in the order of 10 to 300,000 times.
Microanalysis
A technique to analyse composition in regions of a sample in the micron and nano ranges. Techniques include spectroscopy (Energy Dispersive or Wavelength dispersive), Electron Backscatter Diffraction, and Cathodoluminescence
Micron
One thousandth of a millimetre. A micron is also referred to as a micrometer. - also a millionth of a metre (10-6m)
Microscope
A microscope is an instrument that can be used to see objects, or features of objects, that are too small to be seen with the naked eye.
Microscopist
A scientist who understands how each signal is generated and appreciates the information attainable from each signal.
Nanometer
One thousandth of a micrometer - also a billionth of a metre (10-9m)
Objective lens
The lens nearest to the specimen and used to focus the electron beam onto the specimen surface.
Photomultiplier
Photomultipliers are used to detect and amplify low intensities of light.
Probe size
In scanning electron microscopy: the diameter of the electron beam at the first cross-over point below the condenser lens. Often used interchangebly with the term spot size because it affects the final size of the electron beam cross section at the sample.
Raster
The pattern of scanning line-by-line on the screen of a visual display, such as a television screen or computer monitor.
Resolution
The limit of resolution is the smallest separation at which two points can be seen as distinct entities.
Resolution Limit
The limit beyond which points on an image cannot be recognised as distinct.
Resolving Power
The resolution that is achievable by using a particular instrument under optimum viewing conditions.
Risk assessment
A formal process of evaluating the dangers and risks associated with a procedure, involving the application of modifications to the procedure to reduce the risk to a minimum.
Rotation
The practice of moving a sample in a clockwise or anticlockwise direction while in the sample chamber.
Sample height
The distance that the specimen (or sample) lies from the underside of the objective lens.
Saturation
In electron microscopy the saturation point is the optimal setting for the filament, at which maximum electron emission is achieved.
Scale bar
The bar (line) displayed on a screen or image which represents an accurate unit of distance.
Scan coils
Coils within the objective lens that drive the beam off-axis and back again. Two sets of coils are used to deflect the beam in the x and y directions.
Scan speed
The speed with which the electron beam scans across the sample.
Scanning Electron Micrograph
An image, normally a digital image, achieved by using a scanning electron microscope. Note that use of the acronym, SEM, for Scanning Electron Micrograph is strictly speaking, incorrect.
Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM)
An instrument which scans or rasters a fine electron probe over a material, and using a variety of detectors reconstructs an image from the signals generated within the sample.
Scanning Electron Microscopy
A technique: the use of a scanning electron microscope.
Scintillator
A material that emits light when excited by electromagnetic radiation or a beam of subatomic particles, e.g. electrons.
Secondary Electron Image (SEI)
The image that is obtained from secondary electrons that are reflected from a specimen. The image contrast depends on surface roughness, profile of sample and sample composition.
Secondary Electrons
Produced through inelastic scattering that results in the ejection of loosely bound electrons from the specimen. Secondary electrons have energies from ~2-50eV.
Semiconductor
A material with electrical conductivity due to flow of electrons between that of a conductor and an insulator.
Signal processing
In scanning electron microscopy each quantum of signal information (from each beam dwell point) can be changed to some new value that bears a rigorous relationship to the original one, before it is displayed (e.g. to change contrast and brightness of the final image).
Spot size
The size of the beam cross section at the surface of the sample. This affects 1) the resolution of the image and 2) the number of electrons generated from the sample.
Stigmator
A collection of small electromagnetic coils within the objective lens that apply additional magnetic fields to the electron beam to make it cylindrical (circular in cross-section).
Thermionic emitter
A material that emits electrons when heated to a temperature sufficient to overcome its work function (the energy required to liberate an electron).
Tilting
Tipping the sample in the sample chamber so that it no longer lies in the horizontal plain.
Topographic contrast
Contrast from the specimen arising from its surface shape (or topography)
Topography
The shape or relief of a surface.
Tungsten filament
A thermionic electron source composed of a hairpin-shaped wire made of tungsten.
Vapour fixation
The application of a chemical fixative in vapour form (e.g. osmium tetroxide) to chemically stabilise a biological sample so that it undergoes less collapse than fresh material when viewed with electron microscopy.
Variable Pressure (VP)
The ability to change the pressure in the sample chamber of a scanning electron microscope.
Variable pressure mode
Operating the scanning electron microscope with a gas or vapour in the specimen chamber, generally in the pressure range of 10 to 2500 Pa. Non-conductive samples can be imaged in this mode.
Venting
Refers to the process of letting air into the sample chamber of an electron microscope, usually to allow the specimen to be inserted/removed.
Voltage
The voltage between two points is the electrical force that would drive an electric current between the two points.
Water Chilling System
The application of chilled water (in tubes) around an electron microscope column, used to remove unwanted heat.
Wavelength
The wavelength of a sinusoidal wave is the distance over which the shape of the wave is repeated, e.g. the distance between successive peaks or troughs in the wave.
Wobbler
A control found on an electron microscope that sets up an automatic over focus-under focus loop. If the objective lens aperture is not correctly aligned with the electron beam the image will be seen to wobble back and forth under this regime.
Working Distance (WD)
The distance from the underside of the objective lens to the surface of the specimen.
X-rays
X-rays are electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths in the range 0.01 to 10 nm.
Z-axis
Vertical measurement: height. Used when referring to the raising and lowering of a sample stage within an electron microscope.