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Scanning electron microscopy

Scientist-at-SEM

A conservation scientist examining a sample using a scanning electron microscope

The scanning electron microscope (SEM) produces detailed images at a higher magnification than a light microscope. We use the SEM in conservation to study the surface of materials, and the effects of different conservation treatments. The SEM can also be used to identify the elements present in a sample. An X-ray detector measures the characteristic X-rays produced by the interaction of the electron beam with the sample.

Click on the thumbnails below to see a sample being placed in the SEM chamber and some images produced by a scanning electron microscope.

A sample (on the top of the brass stub and mounting platform) is placed in the scanning electron microscope chamber. Scanning electron microscope image of a feather. Scanning electron microscope image of cotton fibres. Scanning electron microscope image of the surface of a piece of marble. Scanning electron microscope image of a leafcutter ant's eye. Scanning electron microscope image of woven silk.

Further information

Watch the video below to see how a scanning electron microscope works.