Microscopy of plastics with the Phenom ProX Desktop SEM

Microscopy of plastics with the Phenom ProX Desktop SEM

Fast and accurate SEM defect analysis

Whether researchers are working on performing plastic defect analysis or monitoring microplastic contamination, they need a fast and accurate way to analyze their samples. The Thermo Scientific Phenom ProX Desktop Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) meets this need and is a fast and flexible instrument for examining various plastic samples with minimal sample preparation.

One research laboratory using the Phenom ProX Desktop SEM is the Material and Fault Analysis Department of the Kunstoff-Institut Lüdenscheid in Germany. The laboratory conducts more than 1,000 studies annually, examining the texture, morphology, orientation and other characteristics of a wide range of plastics to determine the cause of failure of plastic parts.

The laboratory chose the Phenom ProX Desktop SEM to perform their electron microscopy analyses of plastics because of its high flexibility and fast time-to-data. For imaging at higher magnifications or for samples that are poor conductors (such as most polymers), a gold or platinum coating can easily be applied in advance with the LUXOR sputter coater. This coating conducts excess energy away from the sample surface, allowing high-resolution SEM images to be captured. Using the SEM in conjunction with energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDS) allows users to perform non-destructive chemical analyses. Mechanical properties can be examined directly in the SEM by using a miniature tensile and compression bench.

Plastics are often reinforced with glass beads. To make high-quality plastic, the glass beads must be evenly distributed, and the plastic must still have good bending properties. With the Phenom ProX Desktop SEM, researchers can view the distribution of glass beads and their adhesion to the surrounding plastic matrix after various recycling processes, giving them a better understanding of how the material degrades over time.

Highly reliable information on microplastics

Another customer is using the Phenom ProX Desktop SEM to analyze the amount and types of microplastics and to examine traces of contaminants found on the surface of these microplastics.

Since environmental samples contain a variety of substances, it can be difficult to accurately identify microplastics. To perform these analyses, researchers typically use spectroscopy in combination with human observation: manually searching for objects that stand out and selecting which ones to analyze with spectroscopy.

Not only is this a time-consuming process, but it is also subject to human error. Moreover, particle size and surface morphology are not determined.

Image: The back-scattered electron (BSE) image shows some very bright particles, which are probably pieces of metal. Since the client for this analysis is only interested in studying microplastics, these particles could be excluded from further analysis. However, such particles can also be an important source of contaminations in plastic films, for example. Again, non-destructive chemical analysis with EDS can come to the rescue to determine the type of contamination.

Thus, the Phenom ProX Desktop SEM enabled the customer to study both the chemical nature and amount of microplastics. With EDS, they can determine the elemental composition of microplastics.

A versatile solution for plastics electron microscopy

The Phenom ProX Desktop SEM offers high-speed, high-resolution imaging in addition to integrated chemical analysis via EDS, making it the ideal solution for a wide range of applications. Minimal sample preparation is required and the time between sample and result is industry-leading, improving both productivity and quality of results.

Want to learn more about how electron microscopy can help you with plastics analyses?

Send a message to our product specialist for the brochure on the Phenom ProX desktop SEM and the LUXOR Au metal coater.

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