Getting insight into the structure of macro and nano meter size objects is the aim of Electron microscopy (EM). In comparison to optical microscopy with which the light is used to obtain the information about morphology, in EM this role belongs to the electron beam . Its wavelength is significantly smaller than the UV-VIS light range, which is the origin of considerably improved resolution. Owing to the fact that sample-electrons interactions are much stronger than sample- light interactions, imaging in vacuum conditions is required. The probing area is small, however, it does not affect strongly the intensity of the signal, which is very advantageous in a case of nanobjects imaging. Moreover, due to the charge of electrons, it is straightforward to focus them and scan with the use of an electrostatic field. Formation of an electron beam by an electron gun, its acceleration by electric potential, subsequent focusing through a metal aperture and magnetic lenses into a monochromatic beam and final projection onto the sample is the common working order in all electron microscopes .
The electron beam can be generated through thermionic emission or by field emission. A tungsten filament is usually used as typical thermionic electron gun. In order to provide electrons with adequate energy to overcome the work function of the metal, filament is heated to 2800 K in vacuum.
The brightness of the source β is a relevant electron gun parameter. Source brightness can be increased by use of lanthanum hexaboride (LaB6) which is a smaller source size of lower work function than tungsten. This manipulation enables the use of higher currents, which relates with better image contrast sensitivity or decrease in probing area, which improves the spatial resolution. Another possibility is to use a field emission gun (FEG), which can provide an electron beam with a size of 5 nm and significantly improved brightness (104 improvement in comparison to a tungsten gun).
74 Electron–specimen interactions
Figure 2-9 depicts volumes and penetration depths which are the source of different signals, originating from the beam-sample interactions. The area of electron-specimen interaction has a teardrop shape. Sample composed of the element with high atomic number are characterized by lower penetration depth compared to the materials with low atomic number. The different types of electrons resulting from sample-specimen interaction are described below.
Secondary electron (SE) - is a low-energy electron (usually less than 50 eV), which is most frequently emitted from the atoms located close to the surface of the material. Secondary electrons originate not exclusively from inelastic scattering but it can be also electrons from the primary beam which have lost most of their energy as a result of scattering, nevertheless able to reach the surface. The amount of secondary electrons is very high, compared with backscattered electrons. The electron yield strongly depends on the accelerating voltage.The lateral resolution in secondary electron imaging is of the order of 1 to 5 nm for regular samples, however will change according to the probe size and signal-to-noise factors.
Backscattered electrons (BSE) - are high-energy electrons which are elastically scattered and escape from the surface of material without loss in kinetic energy. The number of backscattered electrons is much smaller than secondary electrons and does not depend on accelerating voltage. However, the backscattered electron yield significantly depends on the atomic number (Z). Along with increasing Z the number of emitted backscattered electrons also increases. Considerable worst resolution of backscattered electrons imaging (commonly in the range of 25 to 100 nm), compared to secondary electron imaging results from the larger penetration depth and –therefore sampling volume.
Auger electrons and X-rays – Relaxation of the electron beam ionized atoms results in the liberation of the excess energy between the levels involved in the transition, generating Auger
electrons, X-rays or visible photons. Emission of Auger electrons is competitive for X-rays and occurs frequently with soft materials, which is very profitable for their surface analysis.
Emitted X-rays are useful for elemental analysis .
Figure 2-9. Scheme of electron-specimen interactions for a) thick sample, b) thin sample  (Figure adopted with permission of John Wiley and Sons)
Scanning electron microscopy
The schematic representation of a SEM device is presented in Figure 2-10. The role of objective lens in the case of SEM is the focusing of the electron beam (which size ranges between 2 and 10 nm) on the sample. The beam gets through the optical axis of the objective lens. The signal originating from secondary electrons, backscattered electrons or X-rays emitted from every place on the sample surface is monitored by the detector when the specimen is scanned in a two-dimensional raster (as well as across the sample). Amplified
detector output controls the intensity of each pixel and thus emission intensity The monitored raster size to the specimen raster size ratio determines the magnification . To the advantages of using SEM can be accounted for high availability, low cost, narrow electron beam and high resolution (500000 times magnification), successive magnification rates, significant depth of focus resulting in 3D images. Surface charge buildup might change the trajectory of SE and in order to avoid that, the sample should be conductive. Electro-conductive samples such as gold nanoparticles can be measured straight away; however for non-conductive specimens the shadowing technique has proved to be successful to coat the sample with a thin layer of metal.
Figure 2-10. Schematic representation of an SEM set-up. (Figure adopted with permission of John Wiley and Sons)
77 Transmission electron microscopy
The conventional transmission electron microscope of construction similar to a regular optical microscope is a powerful way for imaging objects of size in the micro- and nanometer range.
TEM devices are usually composed of the following components on the optical path; electron gun, condenser lens, specimen stage, objective lens, intermediate lens, projector lens and data acquisition unit (Figure 2-11). Similar to SEM, high vacuum is required in order to avoid collision of electrons with molecules in air. In comparison to optical microscopy glass lenses are substituted for electromagnetic ones . The TEM microscope accelerating voltage is significantly higher than in the case of SEM and in standard cases varies between 100 and 400 kV, which is very advantageous for imaging of thick samples because of deeper penetration depth and decreased electron wavelength and increased resolution . Nevertheless, one should consider that increasing the accelerating voltage may result in sample damage. The condenser system (C1, C2) controls the demagnification of the spot size and regulates the size and convergence of the spot size at the sample . The sample is deposited on a copper grid of 3 nm diameter to create a thin film with thickness that should not exceed few hundreds of nanometers. Magnification in TEM imagining can reach 106. The immediate sample observation is provided because of a fluorescent screen at the bottom of the column. Electron density is a source of contrast in TEM imaging. The specimen which have less contrast have to be prepared for imaging by techniques such as negative staining, freeze fracture or cryogenic methods .
Figure 2-11. Schematic representation of TEM set-up . (Figure adopted with permission of John Wiley and Sons)