SEM in the reach of every lab

SEM in the reach of every lab

Desktop electron microscopy (SEM) has evolved considerably over the last few decades. Since the first compact desktop electron microscopes saw the light of day in 2006-2007, these instruments have become formidable all-round tools, finding their way into thousands of laboratories around the world.

This has led to pioneering and innovative research and analysis capabilities in sectors such as pharmaceuticals, automotive, polymers, microelectronics, battery research and metals.

Desktop SEM is also increasingly used within specialized SEM platforms to lighten the workload of available conventional SEM technology.

To explain the state of the art in desktop SEM technology, we present here the Phenom Thermo Scientific desktop SEM range.

Why is the desktop SEM so popular?

Until about fifteen years ago, electron microscopy was the exclusive domain of high-tech laboratories in industry and specialized university institutes. SEM installations in these laboratories involved a complex infrastructure and the need for highly qualified and experienced operators. High investment and operating costs also had a negative impact on the installation of SEM in laboratories. In particular, the investment was not easy to justify.

However, a desktop SEM offers a number of solutions:

Phenom SEM
  • No specific infrastructure is required in terms of stability, temperature or humidity.
  • A desktop SEM is an economically justified investment in laboratories where this technology is not used full-time.
  • The operating and maintenance costs of a desktop SEM are often dozens of times lower than those of a conventional SEM.
  • Training of (new) operators can be done in a day, and specific academic training is not required.

In addition, desktop SEM technology meets a number of additional requirements in modern quality control and R&D laboratories, and opens up new possibilities in research projects.

  • Minimal, fully programmable downtime for maintenance activities.
  • Multiple operators must be able to operate the SEM smoothly and easily, using standard procedures for sample preparation and SEM image acquisition.
  • In QC and R&D environments, a desktop SEM must continue to produce results automatically, for example, overnight.
Sample-holder Phenom sem XL
  • The time between sample loading and the first SEM image (known as “time-to-image”) must be as short as possible to increase productivity.
  • The magnification and depth-of-field capabilities of conventional optical microscopes are often too limited to meet the needs of new research projects. Here, the desktop SEM offers an ideal solution.
  • Image analysis must also increasingly be combined with chemical analysis and the determination of particle size and shape. Here too, the available software and hardware offer the right solution.

What is the current state of the art in desktop SEM technology?

Here, we take a closer look at the more technical side of the desktop SEM. What are the characteristics of these devices and how do they compare with conventional SEM? For those wishing to refresh their electron microscopy memory, we recommend this publication.

sem image

Magnification: the various models in Thermo Scientific’s Phenom desktop SEM range from 160x to 350,000x. Image resolution here is better than 6 nm. In addition, the devices also feature a built-in optical microscope that magnifies from 20x to 160x.

For even more advanced work, a MEB-FEG model with field emission source is also available, with a magnification of up to 2,000,000x (resolution < 2 nm).


Detectors: all Phenom Thermo Scientific desktop SEMs are equipped with a backscattered electron detector (BSD). A secondary electron detector (SED) and an EDS detector for chemical analysis and element identification are available as options. EDS is available in point, line scan and mapping modes.

Electron source: the P-Series and XL Thermo Phenom ranges are equipped with a CeB6 source. It offers much higher brightness than conventional tungsten wires and has a lifetime of several thousand hours, so replacement can be carried out during maintenance and downtime is minimal. The MEB-FEG Pharos model features a field emission source (FEG) that guarantees even higher brightness and stability of electron flow.

Acceleration voltage and vacuum modes: the different models have an adjustable acceleration voltage from 1 kV to 20 kV. Multiple vacuum modes let you define a customized vacuum level for your samples, using different sample holders or a vacuum pump.

Sample size and capacity: P-Series models can hold samples up to 25 mm in diameter and 30 mm in height. The XL range can image samples up to 100 mm x 100 mm x 40 mm (h). The same sample holder can also be used for automated measurements on 36 x 12 mm stubs or 9 x 30 mm filters.

Specimen holders and accessories: specimen holders for cooling and heating specimens are available, as well as a specimen holder with automatic eucentric rotation and a miniature test stand for tensile, compression and bending tests.

Software solutions: Phenom Thermo Scientific desktop SEMs can be equipped with software to automatically determine particle size, fiber diameter and pore distribution. Automated solutions for additive manufacturing, technical cleanliness, battery and steel inclusion research, and specialized applications such as asbestos and gunshot residue analysis are also available. In a number of these software modules, image analysis is combined with element analysis via the EDS module.

Thermo Scientific Phenom desktop SEM: tailor-made solutions for every application

The Phenom Thermo Scientific desktop SEM range consists of three basic models:

  • The Thermo Scientific Phenom ProX G6 is a desktop unit with all the features of a SEM. It is particularly well suited to laboratories with a wide variety of samples and applications. The emphasis is on rapid image acquisition and flexibility, without compromising on user-friendliness or hardware and software options. Download Phenom ProX G6 brochure
  • The Thermo Scientific Phenom XL, because of its ability to load large numbers of samples, is mainly used for automated applications or a combination of specific research applications during the day with high-throughput work after hours. It is also the XL platform that is used for numerous automation software applications such as additive manufacturing, technical cleanliness, battery research, steel inclusions and asbestos analysis. Download the Phenom XL brochure
  • Thermo Scientific’s Phenom Pharos is the only desktop MEB-FEG available with < 2 nm resolution (up to 2,000,000x magnification). It also offers the same features as the ProX G6 series. Download the Phenom Pharos brochure

Examples of some typical applications and configurations of the desktop SEM

Below is a sample of the range of applications and configurations available for specific industries or applications, with links to the brochures for each application.

Want to experience the Phenom Thermo Scientific desktop SEM for yourself? Contact our product specialist Pierre Forestier to discuss your application, or to schedule a demonstration on your own samples.

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