Viewing Atoms With Electrons

When we were in school, they always told us we can’t see atoms. If you have an electron microscope, then they were wrong. [AlphaPhoenix] has access to a scanning tunneling transmission electron microscope and he shows us some atoms in a very thin slice of a crystal.

Of course, you aren’t directly imaging the atoms. You are looking at the shadows of the atoms, but still. If you’ve never worked with a SEM or STEM before, there are plenty of little details that are interesting like the sample holders and the vacuum system.

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Home Made Scanning Electron Microscope Shows Some Potential

Scanning electron microscopes are one of those niche instruments that most of us don’t really need all the time, but would still love to have access to once in a while. Although we’ve covered a few attempts at home-builds before, many have faltered, except this project over on Hackday.IO by user Vini’s Lab, which appears to be still under active development. The principle of the SEM is pretty simple; a specially prepared sample is bombarded with a focussed beam of electrons, that is steered in a raster pattern. A signal is acquired, using one of a number of techniques, such as secondary electrons (SE) back-scattered electrons (BSE) or simply the transmitted current into the sample. This signal can then be used to form an image of the sample or gather other properties.

Condenser assembly

The project is clearly in the early stages, as the author says, it’s a very costly thing to build, but already some of the machined parts are ready for assembly. Work has started on the drive electronics for the condenser stigmator. This part of the instrument takes the central part of the rapidly diverging raw electron beam that makes it through the anode, and with a couple of sets of octopole coil sets, and an aperture or two, selects only the central portion of the beam, as well as correcting for any astigmatism in the beam. By adjusting the relative currents through each of the coils, a quadrupole magnetic field is created, which counteracts the beam asymmetry.

Scanning control and signal acquisition are handled by a single dedicated card, which utilises the PIO function of a Raspberry Pi Pico module. The Pico can drive the scanning operation, and with an external FTDI USB3.0 device, send four synchronised channels of acquired sample data back to the host computer. Using PCIe connectors and mating edge connectors on the cards, gives a robust and cost effective physical connection. As can be seen from the project page, a lot of mechanical design is complete, and machining has started, so this is a project to keep an eye on in the coming months, and possibly years!

We have seen a few SEM hacks, here’s a teensy powered SEM hack from [Ben Krasnow] and here’s another attempt. For such a conceptually simple device, with such immense usefulness, its does seem a bit remiss that there aren’t more such projects out there.

Electron Microscopes Are Awesome: Everything You Didn’t Know You Wanted To Know

Electron microscopes were once the turf of research laboratories that could foot the hefty bill of procuring and maintaining such equipment. But old models have been finding their way into the hands of eager individuals who are giving us an inside look at the rare equipment. Before you start scouring Craigslist, go on a crash course of what you need to know with Adam McComb’s Hacker’s Guide to Electron Microscopy. He presented the talk at the 2018 Hackaday Superconference and the recording was just published, you’ll find it below.

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Scanning Electron Microscope Adds To Already Impressive Garage Lab

When you’re a high schooler who built a semiconductor fab in your garage, what’s next on your agenda? Why, adding a scanning electron microscope to your lab, naturally. How silly of you to ask.

When last we stumbled across the goings on in the most interesting garage in New Jersey, [Sam Zeloof] was giving a tour of his DIY semiconductor fabrication lab and showing off some of the devices he’s made there, including diodes and MOSFETs. As impressive as those components are, it’s the equipment he’s accumulated that really takes our breath away. So adding an eBay SEM to the mix only seems a natural progression, and a good reason to use some of the high vacuum gear he has. The video below shows [Sam] giving a tour of the 1990s-vintage instrument and shows images of various copper-sputtered samples, including a tick, which is apparently the state bird of New Jersey.

SEM hacks are by no means common around here, but they’re not unheard of. [Ben Krasnow] has used his to image cutting tools and phonograph records in action, and there are a few homebrew SEMs kicking around too. But our hats are off to [Sam] for yet another acquisition and a great tutorial to boot.

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Nascent Project: Open Source Scanning Electron Microscope

I used to have access to some pretty nice Scanning Electron Microscopes (a SEM) at my day job. While they are a bit more complex than a 3D printer, they are awfully handy when you need them. [Adam Guilmet] acquired a scrapped unit and started trying to figure out how to breathe life into it. His realization was that a SEM isn’t all that complicated by today’s standards. So he has set out to take what he has learned and build one from scrap.

In all fairness, he has a long way to go and is looking for help. He currently says, “[T]his is being powered by fairy dust, unicorn farts, and a budget that would make the poorest of students look like Donald Trump.” Still, he’s collected a lot of interesting data and we hope he can build a team that can succeed.

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Hacklet 111 – Advanced Microscopy Projects

Last week on the Hacklet we covered optical microscopy projects. Those are the familiar scopes that many of us have at work or even at home on our benches. These are scopes that you typically can use with your eye, or an unmodified camera. This week we’re taking a look at more extreme ways of making small things look big. Electron streams and the forces of a single atom can be used to create incredibly magnified images. So let’s jump right in and check out the best advanced microscopy projects on!

blubeamWe start with [andreas.betz] and BluBEAM – a scanning laser microscope. [Andreas] aims to create a scanning confocal microscope. The diffraction limit is the law of the land for standard optical microscopes. While you can’t break the law, you can find ways around it. Confocal microscopy is one technique used quite a bit in medicine and industry. Confocal scopes are generally very expensive, well outside the budget of the average hacker. [Andreas] hopes to break that barrier by creating a scanning confocal microscope using parts from a PlayStation 3 Blu-Ray optical drive. Optical drives use voice coils to maintain focus. [Andreas] had to create a custom PCB with a voice coil driver to operate the PS3 optics assembly. He also needed to drive the laser. BluBeam is still very much a work in progress, so keep an eye on it!

stmNext up is [MatthiasR.] with DIY Scanning tunneling microscope. Open atmosphere scanning tunneling microscopes are popular on I covered [Dan Berard]’s creation in Hacklet 103. Inspired by Dan, [Matthias] is building his own STM.

Environmental vibration is a huge problem with high magnification microscopes. [Matthias] is combating this by building a vibration isolation platform using extruded aluminum. He’s currently working on the STM preamplifier, which amplifies and converts the nano amp STM values to voltages which can be read by a digital to analog converter. [Matthias] is using the venerable Analog ADA4530 for this task. With an input bias of 20 femtoamps (!) it should be up to the task.

desemNext we have [Jerry Biehler] AKA [macona] with Hitachi S-450 Scanning Electron Microscope. Scanning electron microscopes have to be the top of the microscopy food chain. Jerry got his hands on a 1980’s vintage Hitachi SEM which was no longer working. The problem turned out to be a dodgy repair made years earlier with electrical tape. Fast forward a couple of years of use, and [Jerry] has done quite a lot to his old machine. He’s learned how to make his own filaments from tungsten wire. The slow oil diffusion vacuum pump has been replaced with a turbomolecular pump. The SEM now resides in [Jerry’s] living room, which keeps it at a relatively constant temperature.

Bild1Finally, we have [beniroquai] with Holoscope – Superresolution Holographic Microscope. Holoscope is a device which increases the resolution of a standard camera by using the physical properties of light to its advantage. Precise tiny shifts of the object being magnified cause minute changes in a reflected image, which is captured by a Raspberry Pi camera. The Pi can then reconstruct a higher resolution image using the phase data. [beniroquai] has put a lot of time into this project, even sacrificing an expensive Sony connected camera to the ESD gods. I’m following along with this one. I can’t wait to see [beniroquai]’s first few images.

If you want to see more advanced microscopy projects, check out our new advanced microscope projects list! If I missed your project, don’t be shy, just drop me a message on That’s it for this week’s Hacklet. As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of!

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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