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Field-emission scanning electron microscopy (FE-SEM) uses an extremely narrow electron beam generated from a “cold” source to scan the surface of very small, metal-coated samples to create high-resolution images. In FE-SEM, electrons are released from a “cold” emission source, usually a very thin, sharp tungsten needle, by passing a voltage across the tip of the needle. The released electrons are accelerated through a high electrical field gradient under high vacuum and focused into a narrow beam. The beam then scans over the surface of a sample in a raster pattern to create an image. FE-SEM samples must be dry (biological samples must be fixed) and conductively coated, usually with gold or gold-palladium. The collected electrons are processed into an image of the surface of the sample. The electron beam is much narrower than traditional SEM and allows for higher resolution (samples can be as small as 1 nm) and increased image quality. It is often used for quality control to identify tiny defects or contamination in materials. Additional applications of FE-SEM include semiconductor production, synthetic polymer production, and imaging of cell organelles. (Credit: Brooke Anderson-White)
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