Morphology and chemical composition of ceramics - SEM/FIB/EDX

SEM imaging is a valuable tool for obtaining high-resolution images of the surface and inner layers of a material.

Advanced ceramics are technical, engineering or industrial ceramics. These highly abrasion-resistant materials offer mechanical, electrical and thermal properties of interest to industry. They can be divided into three main groups: oxide ceramics (composed mainly of metal oxides such as alumina, zirconia, beryllium and cerium); non-oxide ceramics (materials based on carbides, nitrides, borides and silicates); and composite ceramics (comprising particle- and fiber-reinforced ceramics, as well as combinations of oxides and non-oxide ceramics). Advanced ceramics have a wide range of applications in the automotive, medical, electrical and electronics sectors.

The Field Emission Gun (FEG) SEM enables high-resolution structural studies of technical ceramics. Non-conductive and non-metallized samples can be observed in variable pressure mode without damaging the sample.

From new product development to failure analysis and final quality control, scanning electron microscopy (SEM) provides invaluable information about ceramics. SEM can be used in combination with beam deceleration mode (BDM) to obtain high-resolution imaging at ultra-low landing electron energies of the microstructure of these samples.

SEM is a technique capable of producing high-resolution images of the surface of a sample. It is used in many fields, from biology to materials science and microelectronics, and on all types of sample. Even insulating materials can be observed after metallization, in a controlled inert atmosphere or at low voltages (close to kV).

SEM is generally used to study the 3D morphology of a surface or object with nanometric resolution. Elemental chemical composition can also be obtained by X-ray microanalysis.

The principle of this technique is based on the use of an incident electron beam of a few tens of kilovolts scanning the surface of the sample, which then re-emits a whole spectrum of particles and radiation: secondary electrons, backscattered electrons, Auger electrons and X-rays. Detection of the various particles or radiation emitted provides information about the sample: its morphology, topography, crystalline structure, elemental chemical composition (qualitative and semi-quantitative analysis)...

TESCAN ANALYTICS has over 30 years' expertise in the use of SEM/FIB/EDX on all types of materials, whether insulating or conducting...

Objective of the analysis

Obtain key information on the morphology and elemental chemical composition of materials.

Sample preparation

Specific preparations can be carried out for each type of sample:
- Metallization of insulating samples
- Cross-section FIB for visualization of materials in cross-section


Image 1: SEM image of Al2O3 - overview (SE, BSE detector)

Image 2 : Image MEB de SiC 

Image 3 : Outil de coupe - revĂȘtements des arĂȘtes 
Image 4 : Image MEB de zirconia 


These non-exhaustive examples demonstrate that scanning electron microscopy (SEM), with or without FIB and EDX, is an ultra-powerful microscopy tool for the structural and chemical study of ceramics.

With an excellent depth of field (~ 100 x that of optical microscopy), SEM provides high-resolution images of all materials.

For more applications of SEM analysis or our other analytical techniques and microscopy, click here.

The combination of SEM/EDX and ToF-SIMS techniques facilitates comprehensive analysis of material composition. X-ray tomography enables non-destructive visualization of internal features such as porosity, cracks and phase distribution. In dynamic mode, it is possible to visualize 3D changes in internal structures when they undergo modifications such as loading or liquid absorption.