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June 9th, 2010

Dead bugs, cat hair, air filter…what would you view under a scanning electron microscope?

Published on June 9th, 2010 | By: pwray@ceramics.org
scanning electron microscope image of pyralidae moth, side view of head, Wikipedia Commons.

Scanning electron microscope image of moth, side view of head, Wikipedia Commons.

If you had a chance to view anything under the most powerful microscope, what would it be? A flower? Rotting food? Lightning bug? An old toothbrush? Or, better yet, maybe some ceramic material you are interested in?

Here at CTT – through the generosity of one of our friends in the microscopy field – we are offering our readers the opportunity to choose an item for view using a scanning electron microscope.

An SEM is a type of electron microscope that images the sample surface by scanning it with a high-energy beam of electrons. The electrons interact with the atoms that make up the sample producing signals that contain information about the sample’s surface topography, composition and other properties such as electrical conductivity. All that to say, this is one cool piece of machinery.

We’ve written a lot about research advancements enabled through the use of SEMs. The capabilities of these machines are simply amazing. And given the opportunity to scan some items, we leave the choice up to you.

In the comments section below, tell us what you’d like to see scanned. We’ll take some of the best suggestions and put it up for a vote. We’ll then post the SEM images on our site.

Get creative and have fun! I can’t wait to see what you suggest.


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9 Responses to Dead bugs, cat hair, air filter…what would you view under a scanning electron microscope?

  1. Jenny Poulsen says:

    I support Jesis idea. From the natural world and naturally ordered. Maybe ask a biologist for tips?

  2. Adam Jakus says:

    I’ve always been a fan of using SEMs to look at pollen from various species of plants. Not only whole pollen particles, but their cross sections. Another cool idea would be snake skin.

  3. The needle-like structures of sodium oxalate crystals separated from Bayer process caustic liquor would offer a great viewing under an SEM. A special feature of this would be that part of the material would be needle shaped and part of it ball shaped. The contrast would be great.

  4. Adam Anderson says:

    I would like to put organize a controlled look at what a magnetic field would do in a SEM, and wondering if there was a way to adjust the image so that magnetic materials could be observed. This could prove useful in the development for manufacturing of magnets.

  5. MJ says:

    Dragonfly, Ladybug or Strawberries! Lightning bug also sounds cool. Most images that are online already are of the surface of the bug’s body and not a full image of the bug’s head for example. Dragonfly might be a little too big but I’m sure ladybugs would work. Thank you :)

  6. Jesi Booth says:

    Anything from the natural world would be awesome! The backside of a leaf, a spider, a cross section of a flower, those kinds of things. Something that is naturally ordered and beautiful all by itself.

  7. Electric field control of magnetism has stimulated a flood of recent attention in a variety of fields. The race to control magnetic properties via current has a wide variety of potential applications, including computing, sensors, and energy scavenging. For example, the 0’s and 1’s that make up the memory of computers are just magnetic domains. The magnetization direction within each domain is written by application of a magnetic field. However, there are many problems with using magnetic fields if we are going to continue to make computers smaller, faster and more energy efficient. Magnetic fields require a great deal of power to generate, and these fields can also be difficult to localize, limiting the minimum size of the bit and the memory density. Additionally, the speed that these magnetic fields are applied can only be reduced so far, which limits computing speeds. If one instead uses a material where the magnetism can be controlled electrically, many of these issues can be resolved and potentially new functions taking advantage of the mutual control of electric and magnetic properties can be developed. These materials, called magnetoelectrics, may lead to better computers, high sensitivity field sensing for biosensing or stealth detection, and even energy scavenging. I propose that one of these materials is imaged before, after and potentially during an applied field to see the effects.

  8. Casey Crandall says:

    I like the Lightning bug idea! I know the Li Glass idea could be important but believe that Glass Research institutions have their own SEM’s but a firefly is nature. Possibly would not show much as to the mechanism since it will be dead, possibly the beam will lite it up, just pure curiosity of “simple nature” that is not so simple.

  9. My suggestion for an SEM image is glass containing 0.5% Li2O to determine if the crevices so clearly visible in non-lithium containing glass disappear or are reduced significantly with this addition.

    Recognizing that surface flaws are the primary contributor to glass failure, reducing them should improve glass strength, a critical step to increasing glass applications and lightweighting. This is an easy way to assess the value for further research.

    In spite of many inquiries about this, no one spoken to has had any insights on the impact of lithium on surface flaws in glass although anecdotal and empirical observations suggest there is value in this approach.


    Charles Merivale

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