FIB-SEM: Under the hood

Electron microscopy allows for higher magnifications of a sample by using a beam of electrons to create an image, meaning much smaller objects can be examined in finer detail to reveal their microstructures.

A typical scanning electron microscope (SEM) uses a single beam to gather data from a material, using electrons to image and x-rays to analyse the sample. The focused ion beam-scanning electron microscope (FIB-SEM) adds a second beam, the ion-beam, to cut into the material while the SEM carries out high-resolution imaging. This method can build a 3D stack of data representing your sample layer-by-layer at the nano-metre scale.

For comparison: A human hair is typically around 80 microns (or 80,000 nano metres) wide. Using our FIB-SEM, you can view your products at less than a 10,000th of a human hair.

This detailed analysis offers a greater understanding of how materials interact with each other. Both FIB and SEM can be used independently, but combining them into a single system opens up a wider range of options that are otherwise not possible.

New features that the FIB-SEM brings to Plymouth Electron Microscopy Centre include:

  • 3D cross-sectional chemical analysis (EDS/EDX).
  • 3D cross-sectional electron backscatter diffraction (EBSD).
  • Lamella (thin section) preparation for TEM and TkD.
  • Nano-fabrication and nano-patterning.
  • Tomography.
  • Low voltage STEM (Scanning transmission electron microscopy).

What could FIB-SEM do for your company?

Focused ion beam–scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM) can be a solution for a broad range of industrial applications. The main areas typically covered include failure analysis, product quality verification, and new product development.

Through the Plymouth Materials Characterisation Project, we have already helped companies to:
  • understand why their product is superior to a competitor's
  • identify the unique properties of their product
  • enter new markets with an existing product
  • understand why a component is not working
  • understand why a metal component has cracked
  • develop a patent application
  • develop a curing process.
Visit our Ramer Ltd and South West Metal Finishing Ltd case study pages to see the details.

European Regional Development Fund (ERDF)

The University of Plymouth is proud to be supported by the European Regional Development Fund. As one stream of funding under the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) Growth Programme 2014–2020, the ERDF focuses on smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. 

The main priorities involve contributions to research and innovation, supporting and promoting small and medium size enterprises (SMEs), and the creation of a low carbon economy.