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iLabs: Visitor Question – How Big Is a Scanning Electron Microscope?

July 7, 2012

The question:

How big is a Scanning electron microscope?

How question came about:

The NC Museum of Natural Sciences was having Biotechnology Day Saturday, June 30 (and by the way, it was such a success, they’ll do it again next Spring!).

The Micro World iLab hosted a team from NC State University led by Roger Russell of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. They set up a laptop and monitor in our lab and connected live via their laptop to a researcher at NC State who was working the scanning electron microscope and putting up various specimens on the scope to see. The images were transmitted to us and displayed on a large monitor.

A number of visitors had the opportunity to see this display and enjoyed it. The frequent question?  How big is a Scanning electron microscope?

The Scanning electron microscope at Meiji University, 2011

Here is a 2011 photo of a Scanning electron microscope at Meiji University. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Scanning electron microscope

Scanning electron microscope. Image from cjp24 made available under the GNU Free Documentation License.

The answer is:

While I think most of us have a vision of a room-sized piece of equipment, our researcher shared a rough estimate of the microscope’s footprint in his lab:

About 2 feet wide x 3 feet long x 5 feet high.

We were shocked. The pictures above show he is correct. The microscope itself has a footprint about that size. True there is other support equipment present with the microscope and that does enlarge  the footprint, but the microscope itself is not mammoth.

Here’s a link to a “compact” model. The info in the chart comparing it to a benchtop and full size model indicates it has a respectable list of features.

More info on SEM

So when was it developed? First uses? How does it work? Here’s a link to a very good Wikipedia entry that gives an overview of all of this.

Also, this link for Microscope Master has info as well on the SEM’s workings, advantages, and disadvantages.

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