Automated scanning electron microscopy (SEM) imaging: how it's used

By Karl Kersten - August 16, 2018

In a previous blog, we described how automating scanning electron microscopy (SEM) imaging saves researchers and operators valuable time. A lot of scanning electron microscope users use this for a wide range of purposes. This blog shows an example of how automated SEM imaging is used in the field: it details performing an automated Laser-Induced Damage Threshold test (LIDT).

Automated SEM imaging: accelerating a Laser-Induced Damage Threshold test 

Intense laser light can damage optical components like mirrors, optical coatings, or fibers. For the selection of the right optical components, it is important to find out what dose of energy causes damage to a component, or permanently changes its optical characteristics.


Figure 1: BSD SEM image of laser-induced damage on an optical coating

To determine the exact effect of specific doses of energy, a Laser Induced Damage Threshold test is performed. The optical component is exposed to different intensities and wavelengths of laser light in a grid pattern.

After being exposed to laser light, the component is inspected for damage using different types of optical microscopes and scanning electron microscopes. The grid can contain hundreds of different points — and each point has to be inspected.

Performing this test manually would demand a lot of your time. In this situation, automated microscopy can be a solution that can help save valuable time.

How to acquire SEM images automatically

With a programmable interface, a script is created to acquire images automatically for each point with SEM. The script works by uploading a list of coordinates that is created by the laser. You then calibrate the stage on two points, after which the script proceeds to image each point at a selected magnification.


Figure 2: User interface of the LIDT scan script: the small red and green dots represent points where the optical coating was exposed to laser light.

All the acquired images are stored in the selected folder for you to inspect. If a specific point requires closer inspection, that point can easily be found by clicking on it in the user interface. This way, you can spend more time on the actual analysis than on the acquisition of your SEM images.

Automating this process saves you time Now, you can just click on the images and check if there is any damage.

If you would like to know how scanning electron microscopes with automation capabilities — like the Phenom XL and Programming Interface — will help you save significant amounts of time, you should check out our free Programming Interface specification sheet.

Learn how you can become a more efficient researcher by automating your SEM work. Download the sheet now:

Learn how to automate your SEM work


About the author

Karl Kersten is head of the Thermo Scientific Phenom Desktop SEM Application Team at Thermo Fisher Scientific. He is passionate about the Phenom Desktop SEM product and likes converting customer requirements into product or feature specifications so customers can achieve their goals.

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