Scanning Electron Microscope Images and Animations Pulled By Impressive Teensy LC Setup

When you’ve got a scanning electron microscope sitting around, you’re going to find ways to push the awesome envelope. [Ben Krasnow] is upping his SEM game with a new rig to improve image capture (video link) and more easily create animated GIFs and videos.

The color scheme of the SEM housing gives away its 80s vintage, and the height of image capture technology back then was a Polaroid camera mounted over the instrument’s CRT. No other video output was provided, so [Ben] dug into the blueprints and probed around till he found the high-resolution slow scan signal.

To make his Teensy-LC happy, he used a few op-amps to condition the analog signal for the greatest resolution and split out the digital sync signals, which he fed into the analog and digital ports respectively. [Ben] then goes into a great deal of useful detail on how he got the video data encoded and sent over USB for frame capture and GIF generation. Reading the ADC quickly without jitter and balancing data collection with transmission were tricky, but he has established a rock-solid system for it.

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Phonographs Through The Eye Of An Electron Microscope

Hackaday Prize judge [Ben Krasnow] has been busy lately. He’s put his scanning electron microscope (SEM) to work creating an animation of a phonograph needle playing a record. (YouTube link) This is the same 80’s SEM [Ben] hacked back in November. Unfortunately, [Ben’s]  JSM-T200 isn’t quite large enough to hold an entire 12″ LP, so he had to cut a small section of a record out. The vinyl mods weren’t done there though. SEMs need a conductive surface for imagingphono_anim_1. Vinyl is an insulator. [Ben] dealt with this by using his vacuum chamber to evaporate a thin layer of silver on the vinyl.

Just imaging the record wouldn’t be enough; [Ben] wanted an animation of a needle traveling through the record grove. He tore apart an old phonograph needle and installed it in on a copper wire in the SEM. Thanks to the dual stage setup of the JSM-T200, [Ben] was able to move the record-chip and needle independently. He could then move the record underneath the needle as if it were actually playing. [Ben] used his oscilloscope to record 60 frames, each spaced 50 microns apart. He used octave to process the data, and wound up with the awesome GIF animation you see on the left. 

pits[Ben] wasn’t done though. He checked out a few other recording formats, including CD and DVD optical media, and capacitance electronic disc, an obscure format from RCA which failed miserably in the market. The toughest challenge [Ben] faced was imaging the CD media. The familiar pits of a CD are stored on a thin aluminum layer sandwiched between the lacquer label and the plastic disc. He tried dissolving the plastic with chemicals, but enough plastic was left behind to distort the image. The solution turned out to be double-sided tape. Sticking some tape down on the CD and peeling it off cleanly removed the aluminum, and provided a sturdy substrate with which to mount the sample in the SEM.

We’re curious if stereo audio data can be extracted from the SEM images.  [Oona] managed to do this with a mono recording from a toy robot.  Who’s going to be the first one to break out the image analysis software and capture some audio from [Ben’s] images?

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A Scanning Electron Microscope for the Living Room

There are hackers who have soldering setups on the dining room table, and then there are hackers who have scanning electron microscopes in their living room. [Macona] is part of the latter group, with a Hitachi S-450 SEM he’s repaired and modified himself. [Macona] has documented the whole thing on The Hitachi came to him and a friend as a derelict. First it was broken, then stored for 10 years. It turned out the problem was a high voltage cable cut and spliced with electrical tape. The tape eventually broke down and shorted out the 500V supply. Thankfully the rectifier diodes were the only parts that needed to be replaced.

analog1The SEM sprang to life and gave [Macona] and a friend their first images. However, SEMs are finicky beasts. Eventually the filament burned out and needed to be replaced. New filaments are $500 US for a box of 10, which is more than [Macona] wanted to spend. It turns out filaments can be built at home. A bit of .089mm tungsten wire and a spot welder were all it took to fix the issue. Next to go bad was the scan amplifier. While SEMs use many exotic parts, the Hitachi used relatively common Sanyo STK070 audio amplifiers for the purpose – an easy fix!

One thing that makes this SEM unique is the is Energy Dispersive X-Ray Spectroscopy (EDX) unit attached to it. The fragile liquid nitrogen cooled sensor was working, but the 1980’s era signal processing computer was a bit too old to bring up. A friend and fellow SEM hobbiest gave [Macona] a slightly newer Kevex Sigma Gold signal processor, which was nearly a plug and play upgrade for his machine. The new processor processor also gave him digital beam controls and a digital output which could be used to capture images with a PC.

Once all the connections were made, the EDX worked surprisingly well, even finding gold in a uranium ore sample placed in the microscope.

Now that old scanning electron microscopes being retired, it’s only a matter of time before more us get a chance to join the ranks of [Jeri Ellsworth], [Ben Krasnow] and [Macona] with our own personal SEMs!

[Ben Krasnow] Hacks a Scanning Electron Microscope

[Ben Krasnow] is quite possibly the only hacker with a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) collection. He’s acquired a JEOL JSM-T200, which was hot stuff back in the early 1980’s. [Ben] got a great deal, too.  He only had to pay shipping from Sweden to his garage. The SEM was actually dropped during shipment, but thankfully the only damage was a loose CRT neck plug. The JSM-T200 joins [Ben’s] homemade SEM, his DIY CT scanner, the perfect cookie machine, and a host of other projects in his lab.

The JSM-T200 is old tech; the primary way to store an image from this machine is through a screen-mounted Polaroid camera, much like an old oscilloscope. However, it still has a lot in common with current SEMs. In live video modes, an SEM can only collect one or two reflected electrons off a given section of a target. This creates a low contrast ghostly image we’ve come to associate with SEMs.

Attempting to fire more electrons at the target will de-focus the beam due to the electrons repelling each other. Trying to fire the electrons from higher voltages will just embed them into the target. Even SEMs with newer technology have to contend with these issues. Luckily, there is a way around them.

When “writing to photo”, the microscope switches to a slow scan mode, where the image is scanned over a period of a minute. This slower scan gives the microscope extra time to fire and collect more electrons – leading to a much better image. Using this mode, [Ben] discovered his microscope was capable of producing high-resolution digital images. It just needed a digital acquisition subsystem grafted on.

Click past the break to see how [Ben] modernized his microscope!

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THP Hacker Bio: infinityis


That profile picture is full of pure joy! Meet [infinityis], aka [David Hoelscher] — don’t worry, we’re not revealing his secret identity; he posted his real name on his profile page.

His entry for The Hackaday Prize is a functional show piece to greet guests when they step into his home. His Waterfall Wall will serve as a way to separate the living space from the entryway. The top portion of it is a water feature which will be edge-lit with LEDs whose color will be controlled wirelessly. The bottom part of the wall will provide some storage space.

Join us after the break to find out more about [David], and check out his THP video for a brief introduction to his Waterfall Wall.

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Hackaday Links: June 15, 2014


Love the classic brick Game Boy, but hate the low-contrast LCD, terrible battery life, and the inability to play Pokemon Emerald? This one’s just for you. It’s the ultimate DMG Game Boy – a Game Boy Advance SP stuffed (is it stuffed if it’s taking up more room?) into the classic Game Boy enclosure. Forum thread.

Zooming in to a microchip. It starts off with a DSLR and ends up on a scanning electron microscope. This is an older chip, and the CPU you’re using right now probably has much smaller features.

Every movie and every TV show set in space invariably has space helmets with LEDs pointing towards the face. Think how annoying that would be for an astronaut. Here’s how you add LEDs to a space helmet for a nice theatrical effect. Just don’t use it on a real EVA.

Everyone’s favorite crowdfunded space probe can apparently be detected with an 8-foot dish. That’s the same size as an old C-band dish, a.k.a West Virginia wildflowers. We know some of you have one of these out there, so go make a ~2GHz feed horn, grab a USB TV dongle, write it up, and send it in.

Alright, MAME cabinets. Say you want to go old-school and have a CRT. Some arcade games use a vertically oriented display, while other, slightly more modern games use a horizontally mounted display. How do you fix this? Get a big bearing, of course. This one allows a 19″ CRT to be rotated 90 degrees – all you need, really, if you’re switching between Pacman and Mortal Kombat.

Hey mechanical keyboard enthusiasts! Here’s some Hackaday Cherry MX keycaps. Informal interest check in the comments below. Suggestions welcome.

Electron Beam Control In A Scanning Electron Microscope


A few years ago [Ben Krasnow] built a scanning electron microscope from a few parts he had sitting around. He’s done a few overviews of how he built his SEM, but now he’s put up a great video on how to control electrons, focus them into a point, and scan a sample.

The basic idea behind a scanning electron microscope is to shoot electrons down a tube, focus them into a point, and scan a conductive sample and detect the secondary electrons shot off the sample and display them on an oscilloscope. [Ben] is generating electrons with a small tungsten filament at the top of his electron ‘stack’. Being like charged, these electrons naturally fan out, so a good bit of electron optics are required to get a small point.

Focusing is done through a series of pinholes and electrostatic deflectors, much like you’d see in an old oscilloscope CRT. In the video, you can see [Ben] shooting electrons and displaying a Christmas tree graphic  onto a piece of phosphor-coated glass. He has a pretty big scanning area in his SEM, more than enough to look at a few chips, wafers, and whatever other crazy stuff is coming out of [Ben]’s lab.

Video below, along with the three-year-old overview of the entire microscope.

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