Re-Designing the Lab Experience in the Wake of COVID-19

The Coxem EM-30N is a perfect fit for smaller universities, undergrad education, and basic research.

The Coxem EM-30N is a perfect fit for smaller universities, undergrad education, and basic research.

As colleges and universities begin to put plans in place to re-open, many are trying to find a way to retain the hands-on laboratory experience with the need for limited contact and social distancing. One solution may be “distributed microscopy” utilizing tabletop SEM.

Traditional electron microscopy departments often rely upon a central “Core Facility”, usually a restricted access lab where systems that are very expensive to own and maintain usually reside. These facilities host multiple users who typically schedule blocks of time on specific instruments. Sterilizing instruments between users, while scheduling to maintain social distancing, means that fewer students and researchers have access to the tools they need.

The introduction of the tabletop, or bench-top, electron microscope may be part of the solution. Combining affordability with ease-of-use, the modern TT-SEM (Tabletop SEM) can achieve a level of performance that was only available in full-size systems just a few years ago.

By placing multiple, lower-cost systems directly in the labs and departments requiring them, contact with other students and researchers can be limited, but still provide high-quality imaging in a compact, easy-to-use system.

Coxem designed the EM-30 family of TT-SEMs to occupy a unique position, bridging the gap between full-size systems and typical tabletops. Being slightly larger than most other tabletop electron microscopes, the EM30 can be upgraded with additional features that smaller systems just don’t have room for. The EM-30N comes complete with both BS and SE detectors, so it can image and resolve just like its larger cousins. In addition, the chamber is equipped with four accessory ports, where the typical tabletop system has only one. This means that you can add a host of additional features in addition to EDS, such as a cold stage and a STEM detector.

The adjustable aperture and stage controls work just like the equivalent features on a full-size SEM, so the skills learned while using the EM-30 are transferable when users eventually transition to a larger system. Filament replacement is straightforward and simple, and tungsten filaments are inexpensive and readily available.

And these systems aren’t just for entry-level users; many department-level research programs at medium and major research universities are finding these same affordable systems can satisfy a wide majority of their electron microscopy needs. The EM-30 is even available with a CeB6 filament for more demanding applications like low kV imaging.

“No contact” installation is possible due to the system's simple setup – remove the shipping bracket, connect the PC, plug in the power cable, connect the vacuum pump, and the system is ready to run. In addition, no special utilities are required; just a standard 120 VAC outlet and a small amount of bench space. Training can be accomplished remotely over the web, and a variety of training videos are available on-demand. The EM-30 can even be operated remotely; just load multiple samples in the lab, and then run the system from the comfort of your home or office.

The current global pandemic is forcing many universities to re-think their research and training strategies, and many are choosing to de-centralize their electron microscopy programs. By placing a greater number of less expensive tools in many different departments, these schools are able to offer electron microscopy capabilities to a far greater number of students, while decreasing the person-to-person exposure possibilities. The age of the affordable SEM has arrived, and the Coxem EM-30 is leading the way by providing high-quality, yet affordable electron imaging to all who need it.

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by COXEM Co. Ltd.

For more information on this source, please visit COXEM Co. Ltd.

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