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Scanning Electron Microscope

Scanning Electron Microscope

The Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) is housed in a newly renovated facility in the Carnegie Building. Students, faculty, and visiting researchers use this instrument to image fine detail on a variety of materials including minerals, microfossils, semiconductors, plankton, pollen, and synthetic crystals.

By using electrons instead of visible light, this instrument can magnify objects up to about 200,000 times (compared to just 1,000 times with a traditional light microscope). The SEM is equipped with a back-scattered electron detector that makes it possible to image chemical variation in polished samples and a cathodoluminesence system that can detect visible light generated by some samples.

An Energy Dispersive X-Ray Spectrometer (EDS) allows researchers to make semi-quantitative chemical analyses and map the distribution of different elements at the ~10 micron scale. To put this in perspective, it is possible to make 10 or more analyses across an object as thin as a human hair. Oberlin’s SEM/EDS was purchased with the help of a National Science Foundation grant, and is used by a number of classes in addition to supporting research.