Ultramicrotomy in the ESEM, a versatile method for materials and life sciences


A. Zankel. Tel: +43 316 873 8832; fax: +43 811596; e-mail: armin.zankel@felmi-zfe.at


We here present the results of the first materials science analyses obtained with the prototype of a serial block-face sectioning and imaging tool, 3View™ of Gatan, Inc (Pleasanton, CA, U.S.A.). It is a specially designed ultramicrotome operating in situ within an environmental scanning electron microscope originally developed for life science research. The microtome removes thin slices from the sample and the environmental scanning electron microscope images each new block surface of the specimen (serial block-face scanning electron microscopy). The Schottky emitter (FEG) of the microscope delivers high spatial resolution and has the advantage of stable performance and high durability. The slice thickness can typically be selected between 50 and 100 nm. It is possible to cut hundreds of slices and simultaneously acquire images with Digital Micrograph™ Model 700 (Gatan, Inc.). This article outlines the set-up and describes the automated process. The preparation of specimens for in situ ultramicrotomy is explained and the parameters for good image quality are discussed. In addition, special operative and analytic features of the controlling software are presented. Three different technical materials and one botanical specimen were analyzed delivering first results of this method for materials science and for botany.