Morphology, topography, chemical composition of glass - SEM/FIB/EDX

SEM imaging is an invaluable tool for the development and manufacture of glass-based products.

Glass products can be found in our everyday lives in the form of windscreens, windows, solar panels, furniture parts, electronic devices or containers such as bottles, jars, etc. Glass fibers are materials made up of extremely fine glass filaments bonded together in a compact form. These fibers have good thermal and acoustic properties and are therefore commonly used in home insulation.

The chemical composition of glass varies according to the manufacturing method, the shaping process and the intended use.

Advanced glasses such as oxides, silicates, phosphates and borosilicates offer good thermal shock resistance, a wide range of optical properties and good chemical resistance. These materials, widely used in industry, require a good knowledge of their morphology and composition in order to master their specifications. Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) provides important information on glass, with nanometric resolution images of the surface or wafer. In the glass industry, knowledge of the composition and structural state of glass is a key factor in quality control, as well as in the research and development of new products.

Glass-based materials are often sensitive to high-voltage electron beams. Samples that cannot be coated with a thin conductive layer can be imaged in variable pressure mode.

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 conductive... With state-of-the-art instruments, our team of experts works with all industrial sectors.

Objective of the analysis

Obtain key information on the morphology, topography, crystalline structure 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


Figure 1 : SEM image of a glass surface defect


Figure 2 : SEM image of glass crystals - overview

Figure 3 : SEM image of glass crystals - detail
Figure 4 : SEM image of an optical fiber


In these non-exhaustive examples, it has been demonstrated that scanning electron microscopy (SEM), with or without FIB and EDX, is an ultra-powerful microscopy tool for the structural and chemical study of glasses.

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.