The power and potential of a programmable interface for desktop SEMs

By Ruud Bernsen - Jul 20, 2017

In previous blogs, I have written about automating large applications. But automation can also make the smaller tasks  quicker and easier for an operator. Behind every button on the menu, there is a command that is activated in code. The Phenom Programming Interface (PPI) gives you access to those commands, enabling you to write your own scripts. In this blog, I will cover a few simple examples of what you can do with PPI.

Automate away

Let’s imagine the following scenario: the operator has to take images at five or six levels of magnification and different electron beam settings. This is a very easy task with a desktop SEM, but it still takes some manual adjustments. A simple script of just a few lines can automate this task and reduce the process to a one-button operation.

A slightly more complicated example would be an image stacking script. Even though the depth of focus of an electron microscope is very high, it is not always possible to get the image in perfect focus when there is a lot of height difference. This can be the case when imaging fractures or large particles. For these examples, you need to capture fully focused images to make a correct assessment. Using PPI, a script can be made to take images at different focus levels and merge them all together, creating one fully focused image that provides all the details you need.


Figure 1, 2 & 3: when imaging samples with angled surfaces, like this drill, it can be hard to get everything 
into focus. Merging them together will give a fully focused image.

Don’t stop at images

A picture is worth a thousand words, so how many words is a movie worth? Today’s desktop SEMs are more than fast enough to make movies, which can be especially useful for live (in situ) experiments underneath the SEM, such as tensile testing.

With the Tensile Sample Holder for the Phenom XL, you can watch materials being stretched, and potentially fractured, at a microscopic level. It can be useful to capture this process in a movie so that you can share the results with colleagues or clients. With a PPI script, this can be done with a few clicks. The settings can be varied from very fast acquisition to slower, high-resolution movies like this one:

 These are just a few examples of the things you can automate with the Phenom Programming Interface. If you would like to learn more about the potential, power, and possibilities of the Phenom Programming Interface, you can download the PPI specification sheet here. It should give you a good idea of what it can do for your applications:

Learn how to automate your SEM work

About the author

Ruud Bernsen used to be a Technical Sales Engineer at Thermo Fisher Scientific, the world leader in serving science. He provided training and product support to his former customers in The Netherlands. In addition, Ruud arranged product demonstrations for companies and universities to show the possibilities of the Thermo Fisher Scientific product range.

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