Insights from industry

Benchtop SEM with Integrated EDS - Revolutionizing the World of Structural Analysis

Jos Maas, the head of product marketing at Phenom-World, has close to 20 years of experience in the science industry. Jos Maas spoke to AZoM about the Phenom ProX, a benchtop analysis tool that integrates SEM with EDS allowing lab researchers to carry out comprehensive materials analysis without having to use bulky and awkward equipment.

Why did you develop the Phenom ProX?

Traditionally, Scanning Electron Microscopes (SEMs) are expensive, large, complicated machines that require lots of training and maintenance. So, SEM was only being used by the ‘happy few’. What we wanted to do is to make SEM technology accessible to more people. This means we needed to make it easier-to-use, less prone to maintenance and make it more affordable.

On top of this, we wanted the Phenom to be fast in terms of results and small in terms of footprint. And to make things even more challenging, we wanted the Phenom to yield wonderful images. In other words, we wanted the Phenom to be a real and serious SEM.

You can imagine that developing such a tool was a major task. It’s not simply making a big tool smaller. We basically needed to redefine how you should design and build an SEM. In the process, we spent an enormous amount of time talking to SEM users and we gained key insights on how SEMs are really used.

These insights gave us guidance on how to develop a desktop SEM that users really want and like. Our efforts did not go unnoticed. We quickly became the number 1 player in the ‘desktop’ SEM arena. And we did not stop innovating. We are now shipping the fourth generation Pro and ProX systems and also introduced new platforms such as the Phenom XL.

This project is a great example of what we stand for as a company. We believe that when you make complex technology more intuitive and easier to use, more people can, and will, reap its benefits, which again leads to more technological progress. So, we want to ‘liberate’ complex technology. This is a great challenge in itself, but we like that.

Compare it with an iPhone; it’s intuitive, easy to use, but it’s full of complex technology. But that technology stays on the background, the user is not hampered by it. We do the same in the world of SEM.

An SEM image of perovskite LaSrZnFeO6

An SEM image of perovskite LaSrZnFeO6

How does the ProX vary from the Pro?

The Phenom ProX is in many ways identical to the Phenom Pro with one big exception. The ProX also allows the user to perform an elemental analysis, which means one can determine what elements are present in the sample. For such an analysis we measure the X-rays that are emitted from the sample when they are bombarded with electrons. Hence the extra ‘X’ in the product name.

This technique is called Energy Dispersive X-ray Spectroscopy (EDS) and we succeeded in fully integrating it into the SEM. So, unlike other SEMs, you don’t see an extra scan unit, detector and cables sticking out of the Phenom ProX. That would make it messy and that is something we do not want. We want our SEMs to look smooth. And identical to what we did when developing the Phenom desktop SEM, also here we spent a lot of time understanding what EDS users really do. Using this knowledge, we could develop a workflow that is easy yet reliable.

What are the key benefits of the Pro and ProX?

You wouldn’t expect it at first sight, but there is a tremendous amount of innovation ‘under the hood’. So please sit tight, because this is going to be a long list.

Firstly, we have a unique sample loading system that make the Phenom Pro and ProX the fastest SEMs in the world. Within half a minute, the user actually sees an electron image. So, the throughput of our tools is enormous.

The images themselves are very good thanks to – of course – the column (lens) design, but also thanks to the electron source that we use. That is a so-called CeB6 source, which is much brighter than a W-wire that is typically used in other SEMs. This gives us great contrast. And the better the contrast, the better the images. Using such a source is far from simple as it requires a very good vacuum at source level. We pulled that off by designing a clever differential vacuum system.

What makes the Phenom Pro and ProX also unique is a built-in optical navigation camera. This is not just a simple optical camera in the vacuum chamber, but a camera with a telecentric lens that gives a full orthogonal view of the sample. The pictures made by this camera are integrated in the workflow. This means you always know where you are. It also allows you to quickly navigate to any location on the sample. You simply cannot get lost.

Another key innovation is the way we deal with vibrations. Once in the system, the sample holder forms a very tight connection with the lens. This makes them extremely insensitive to external vibrations. You can put our machine on locations where others SEMs simply would not perform, such as vans, boats and vibration-sensitive buildings.

And finally, the Phenom has the lowest carbon footprint of all SEMs. The energy use is very low, less than 100 Watts. Compared to a large SEM system, a customer saves thousands of euro’s per year in energy costs alone.

The Phenom ProX

The Phenom ProX's small footprint means it is suitable for use in any analysis lab

How easy is the ProX to set up and use?

Although the technology that we use in the Phenom is advanced, setting up and actually using a Phenom ProX is very straightforward. Actually, anyone could do it; you plug in the power cables, press the start button and the system starts pumping down. Once the vacuum is good enough you can start using the system, which only requires a few minutes of basic training. And that is not just for trained academics. My 11-year old son is capable of demo’ing the system!

Another point worth mentioning is the fact that we put a lot of effort in making the SEM very robust; it’s difficult to do something wrong and break it. The Pro and ProX are also small and light-weight. So you only need a simple small table to install it.

The Phenom ProX features an integrated EDS detector. What is EDS and why is this useful?

EDS stands for Energy Dispersive X-ray Spectroscopy. With this detection technique, you measure the energy of X-rays coming from the sample. The energy of these X-rays is very specific to the elements in the sample. So, when you measure an X-ray energy spectrum, you have a ‘fingerprint’ of what elements are present in the sample. EDS is a very useful and powerful technique, because in most cases, people are not only interested in how their sample looks like. They also want to know what the sample consists of.

What is the Element Identification software package and how can it be used?

Our so-called Element IDentification (EID) software allows users to perform an EDS analysis. The user can tell the software where and how the measurement needs to be done (e.g. at one specific point or a certain area). The software then automatically translates the results into a list or map of elements present in the sample, including their concentrations. So, where the SEM helps you to see how the sample looks like, the EDS detector and the EID software help you to understand what elements are present in the sample. And again, we stopped at no effort to create a comfortable and ‘easy’ user experience.

Element IDentification (EID) Software assists in EDS analysis with the Phenom ProX

Element IDentification (EID) Software assists in EDS analysis with the Phenom ProX

What areas of research and industry are you seeing benefit from the Phenom ProX?

Of course, there is a limit to what you can do with the Phenom. But please realize that 80% of all SEM applications require a magnification of 1,000 to 10,000x. This means that our SEM is good enough for at least 80% of all SEM applications. In fact, we can probably handle an even higher percentage, because our magnification is way better already.

So, I’d like to turn your question around. There are only very few areas that can not benefit from the Phenom. You can clearly see this from our customer base. It is very wide spread in terms of applications. We have customers in all kinds of industry sectors such as automotive, forensics, electronics, pharmacy, etc. And you will also find the Phenom at colleges and universities around the world. There, the Phenom is used for all kinds of research. When you talk to those users, you will always hear the same comments: “the Phenom is so fast, images are good. It just works!”

Phenom Scanning Electron Microscope Micro movie (Phenom-World)

Are there any recent case studies that you are particularly proud of?

There are 3 examples that come to mind. We recently did some work on high-end microchip packaging with a customer in Taiwan. This particular customer claimed our imaging results were better than that of a field-emission SEM that he was normally using. You should realize such a SEM is 4 times more expensive than ours! So, no need to say that this makes us feel proud.

Another example is a recent demo we did during a workshop on nanofibers. A scientist gave us some fibres to examine. We loaded them in the Phenom Pro and gathered various images, where we could resolve the smallest fibres (~15nm). Then we automatically counted and measured all fibres using our own analysis software package (‘fibermetric’). We then unloaded the sample and handed it back to the scientist, including a USB-stick with all results. The whole analysis, including loading and unloading the sample took a full 3 minutes. You should have seen the scientist’s face. He claimed he was ‘flabbergasted’.

Then there is Mike Blok, who uses the Phenom Pro as an important part of his ‘Project Nano’. The goal of that project is to make high-school kids enthusiast for science and technology. There is a great movie on youtube that you should definitely watch: you can view it here.

What accessories are available to use with the ProX?

We have a large variety of sample holders available. They basically come in 2 classes. The so-called ‘active’ holders allow a user to rotate, tilt, cool, heat, etc. And there’s another class of sample holders for different types of samples, ranging from stubs and resin-mounts to micro-tools and micro-electronics, etc.

We also have a suite of software packages that allow you to quickly analyse the images you made. We can do that for particles, pores and fibres. The workflow of these packages has been made based on extensive feedback from actual users. And the algorithms behind these packages were created by some of the brightest academics in the world. So also here, our software really makes a change compared to what was out there.

Another interesting software package lets you use all the knobs in the SEM, such as the stage, the navigation camera and of course all SEM controls. So this package, called PPI (Phenom Programming Interface) allows you to build your own customized scripts for automation purposes. PPI is based on open standards, so we guarantee maximum transparency.

Particle analysis is also possible using the Phenom ProX

Particle analysis is also possible using the Phenom ProX

Where can our readers learn more?

You can find lots of information on our website

I also recommend one particular movie, where Sir Prof. Colin Humphreys shares his view on our SEM, which you can see below.

Customer Stories: Sir Prof. Colin Humphreys about the Phenom SEM for Materials Science

But to really feel and understand how different a Phenom SEM is, I recommend that you try it yourself…

Download the Specification Sheet for More Information

About Jos Maas

Jos Maas

Jos Maas is the head of product marketing, service and applications of Phenom-World, a leading supplier of table-top Scanning Electron Microscopes.

He joined the company in 2014, after spending almost 14 years with ASML in various management functions.

Jos obtained an M.Sc. in physics at Utrecht University, a Ph.D. in physics at Eindhoven University of Technology and an MBA-marketing at TiasNimbas Business School.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent the views of Limited (T/A) AZoNetwork, the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and Conditions of use of this website.

Jake Wilkinson

Written by

Jake Wilkinson

Jake graduated from the University of Manchester with an integrated masters in Chemistry with honours. Due to his two left hands the practical side of science never appealed to him, instead he focused his studies on the field of science communication. His degree, combined with his previous experience in the promotion and marketing of events, meant a career in science marketing was a no-brainer. In his spare time Jake enjoys keeping up with new music, reading anything he can get his hands on and going on the occasional run.


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