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.

Such examples involving 3D analysis include:

  • Studying pore size and sintering levels in ceramic components
  • Studying grain size and orientation distribution in metals
  • Studying alloying constituents and inclusions
  • Measuring and confirming layers in semi-conductors
  • Studying phase distributions in mining rocks
  • 3D investigation of biological tissue for medical research.

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.