There has been significant progress in recent years aimed at pushing the spatial resolution limits of scanning electron microscopes. Many of these endeavours have been driven by advances in the field of nanotechnology and the need to investigate the morphological features of sub-micron size materials. While scanning electron microscopy is indeed a powerful tool for investigating objects at length-scales that are prohibitive using standard optical microscopy techniques, SEMs are equally useful in characterizing the micro- and macro-scale architectures of transparent, highly reflective, or morphologically complex materials. Despite this great potential, until recently, the maximum feature sizes that could be successfully imaged in a scanning electron microscope were on the order of a few millimeters and the thought of routinely imaging objects on the order of 10s of centimeters in a single dimension, in a single image seemed unimaginable. New advances in SEM column design, however, are beginning to change all of this.

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DOI: 10.1016/S1369-7021(10)70186-3