Morphology, topography, chemical composition of wood, textile and paper - SEM/FIB/EDX

SEM imaging is a valuable tool for identifying fiber type, shape, arrangement and surface treatment.

Textiles are produced from a wide range of materials. They can be of animal origin (such as wool and silk), mineral (such as glass and asbestos), extracted from plants or shrubs (such as cotton, linen or jute) or synthetic (such as polyester or nylon). Paper is made by pressing fibers such as cellulose pulp. It's used throughout our lives in packaging, newspapers, books and so on. Wood is an organic material used in the construction and furniture industries to build structures. Other wood products include glulam, structural wood panels, plywood, oriented strand board and composite panels. Each of these materials has different properties depending on the type, dimensions, arrangement and/or treatment of the fibers.

For the study of these materials, Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) provides high-resolution imaging, even at low acceleration voltages. The variable pressure mode is suitable for insulating or hydrated samples.

Identifying the type and dimensions of fibers is an important step in the development of new products. A good knowledge of their characteristics will enable us to predict their reactions to ambient conditions and in various media, and to plan the treatments to be applied. Once processed, SEM will provide information for understanding the interaction of fibers with treating molecules. Electron microscopy can also be used with temperature-controlled stages or stages equipped with a tensile module to identify phase changes or fracture phenomena in these fibrous materials.

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 samples. Even insulating materials can be observed after metallization, under variable pressure 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 sweeping across 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 these different particles or emitted radiation 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: morphology, topography, crystalline structure, elemental chemical composition of fiber-based materials.

Sample preparation

Specific preparations can be carried out for each type of sample:
- Metallization of insulating samples
- Resin setting and surfacing of "soft" samples (organic, biological, etc.) for cross-sectional observations
- Cross-section FIB for visualization of "hard" materials (metals, ceramics, etc.) in cross-sections


Figure 1 : SEM image of paper packaging


Figure 2 : SEM image of polymer-coated paper

Figure 3 : SEM image of a woven textile made from cotton yarns
Figure 4 : SEM image of wood
Figure 5 : SEM image of wood
Figure 6 : SEM image of cashmere fibers


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 morphological, structural and chemical study of wood, textiles and paper.

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

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

The combination of SEM/EDX and ToF-SIMS techniques facilitates comprehensive analysis of the chemical composition of materials. X-ray tomography enables non-destructive visualization of internal features such as porosities, cracks and phase distribution in alloys and composites. In dynamic mode, it is possible to visualize 3D changes in internal structures when they undergo modifications induced by mechanical deformation or liquid absorption.