Advanced science.  Applied technology.


SwRI acquires powerful field emission scanning electron microscope

April 25, 2022 — Southwest Research Institute is now home to a field emission scanning electron microscope, a powerful materials characterization tool that will aid in the research and development of a wide range of materials systems, including thin films and nanomaterials. The microscope’s powerful magnification capabilities can produce clear, sharp images of objects magnified over 1,000,000 times. Additionally, the instrument’s onboard energy dispersive X-ray spectrometer enables localized chemical analysis of the materials being imaged.

“This exceptional new tool will allow us to image and chemically analyze materials at much higher magnifications than we could previously,” said John Macha, manager of SwRI’s Materials Science and Failure Analysis Section. “This will enable us to perform detailed materials characterization as well as research and development involving thin films and other material systems exhibiting extremely small length scales.”

The microscope will be especially useful to SwRI’s Surface Engineering Laboratory, where engineers use various processes to modify the surface of materials for improved properties. SwRI performs analytical testing, failure analysis, prototype or technology development, pilot production and manufacturing implementation support, serving the aircraft, automotive, defense, energy, medical, offshore/subsea, printing, security and space industries.

Macha noted that the microscope also supports research into the synthesis of graphene, a material composed of a hexagonal lattice of carbon atoms. The microscope is also being used to evaluate thin films composed of high entropy alloys.  

“This new microscope will serve researchers across many different disciplines,” Macha said. “For instance, our space scientists will use it to evaluate ultrathin films and other coatings for spacecraft instrumentation. Hypersonics researchers can evaluate how different coating technologies protect objects traveling extremely fast and prevent them from deteriorating.”

The field emission scanning electron microscope additionally supports root-cause failure analysis activities for the power generation, aerospace and transportation industries. Engineers will use the instrument to zoom in on extremely fine fracture features to assess the active damage mechanisms that led to failure. This powerful microscope will allow SwRI to expand its failure analysis capabilities.

“We’re excited about the new applied research opportunities this instrument will bring—the ones we’ve identified as well as potential new ones waiting to be discovered,” he said.

For more information, visit Metallurgical Analysis Laboratory or contact Joanna Quintanilla, +1 210 522 2073, Communications Department, Southwest Research Institute, 6220 Culebra Road, San Antonio, TX 78238-5166.