Electron microscopy

Our electron microscopes are an essential tool for advancing our HTS research. They are also available to study industrial, geological and biological materials.

Photograph of an electron microscope in use.


Our team of specialist electron microscopy researchers, led by Sarah Spencer undertakes fundamental materials research to extend our understanding of the microstructures in YBCO and other superconductors.

The microstructure of a high temperature superconductor (HTS) affects its current carrying capacity. Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) enables us to observe a material’s microstructure and therefore isolate the effect of different processing steps.

Besides our own suite of electron microscopes, we have access to the transmission electron microscopes at Victoria University of Wellington and the electron holography instruments at the Technical University of Denmark.

Read more about our superconductivity research programme.


We offer scanning electron microscopy services to support research, academic and commercial activity. We are also interested in developing collaborative research projects with other parties.

Regular users can be trained to operate the instruments independently, since they are intuitive and easy to use. Alternatively, we are happy to receive samples, operate the instruments and provide the data directly or compile it into a report.

We also provide sample preparation services including metallography and carbon or metal coating of samples.

Instruments and sample preparation equipment

FEI Quanta 450 SEM

The FEI Quanta is our workhorse instrument and can operate in high, low and environmental (or ESEM) vacuum modes. It is equipped with an energy dispersive X-ray spectrometer (EDS or EDXS) for the elemental analysis of materials.

It has the following features:

  • simple and fast sample exchange
  • large chamber to accommodate multiple or large samples
  • tungsten filament
  • secondary electron detector for topographical contrast imaging
  • backscatter electron detector for compositional contrast imaging
  • low vacuum mode for semi or non-conductive samples
  • environmental SEM with cooling stage to observe wet samples in their natural state or to hydrate samples in-situ
  • stage tilt up to 70° to view surface topography and make structural measurements.

FEI Nova NanoSEM 450

The FEI Nova is a high-resolution, field emission gun SEM (FEG-SEM), with excellent imaging and analytical performance. It is equipped with an energy dispersive X-ray spectrometer (EDS or EDXS) for elemental analysis and an electron backscatter diffractometer (EBSD) for crystal orientation mapping.

It also has a scanning transmission electron microscopy (STEM) detector for imaging transmission electron microscopy (TEM) samples in a simpler way than using a transmission electron microscope. Up to six TEM samples can be loaded into the chamber for viewing during one session.

The Nova has the following additional features:

  • simple sample exchange
  • secondary electron detector for topographical contrast imaging
  • backscatter detector for compositional contrast imaging
  • beam deceleration for imaging semi or non-conductive samples
  • stage tilt up to 75° to view surface topography and make structural measurements.

Sample Preparation equipment

To support SEM and TEM work, our facility includes a carbon coater, metal coater and a Gatan Precision Ion Polishing System (PIPS).


A wide range of samples can be imaged with our instruments, including ceramics, polymers, metals and biological samples.

More information

For more information about electron microscopy, contact:

Robinson Research Institute