The transmission electron microscope was an essential advancement in science, enabling us to view micro and nanoparticles. These tiny specks of matter are very tiny, and normal microscopes are all but incapable of viewing them.
To see these particles in-depth, scientists developed the transmission electron microscope back in 1931. Since then, this innovative piece of technology has been utilized time and time again to make many significant scientific advancements.
In this article, we’ll break down just how a transmission electron microscope works. We’ll talk about the specific parts that allow the overall mechanisms to function and why the concept of an electron microscope makes any sort of sense at all. Here at Optical Mechanics, we’re excited for you to join us on this journey! Let’s get started.
When breaking down the transmission electron microscope and how it works, don’t be too alarmed if you get slightly confused. These devices sound incredibly complicated because, well, they are.
Electron microscopes primarily rely upon an electron gun to function. This electron gun fires a beam of electrons through an ultra-thin specimen or subject at an extremely high speed. Then, an image is formed based on how the specimen interacts with the electrons. This image is then projected and magnified on an imaging platform, which can be many different things, including a fluorescent screen or layer of film.
While all this might sound like it’s a bit too complicated, in truth, transmission electron microscopy is an important way for us to have a better understanding of our universe. This is because they can generate much higher-resolution images than a traditional light microscope.
After all, they are essentially dissecting specimens using an electron beam to render a particle-accurate image of said specimen on one of the smallest scales imaginable.
Many different things affect the functionality of a transmission electron microscope. There are quite a few parts integral to a TEM’s operation. The vacuum system is one of the most critical parts of any transmission electron microscope.
When electrons are firing at extremely high speeds and voltages, it’s essential that they don’t come into contact with gas atoms. This is because when high-speed particles smash into atoms, it can result in a dangerous interaction that wouldn’t benefit anyone, especially someone trying to conduct scientific research on a highly important specimen.
To prevent electrons from coming into contact with random gas atoms, TEMs are equipped with vacuum systems. These prevent any air from getting in during the firing of the electrons from the electron gun and help to ensure not only a high-quality image but also a safe analysis of any specimen.
A phosphorescent screen is the next piece of equipment that is highly important to a TEM working correctly. Such a screen emits photons when it comes in contact with the electron beam. Once these photons are emitted, a high-resolution image can be produced.
Now that we understand more about how precise a transmission electron microscope is and how high-quality its images are, let’s talk about this device’s different applications. Several different industries use transmission electron microscopes in all sorts of ways.
Since its initial development in 1931, TEMs have been used in various fields. Their usage is especially important in biology, pharmaceuticals, virology, and epidemiology. Because they can successfully view tiny (like, really tiny) particles, scientists can get a more accurate picture of cell walls from various organisms, specific proteins, cytoskeletal fragments, and more. The ability to view and break down these particles is incredibly useful to scientists and researchers in all kinds of fields of study.
Another realm where TEMs have proven to be useful is physics. After all, scientists are still struggling to figure out how different particles interact with one another.
Tools like a TEM allow scientists to intensely scrutinize and understand how different particles behave or change when exposed to new environments, circumstances, levels of heat, energy, sound, and more. By simply giving physicists the power to observe these different particles better, a TEM can prove to have a plethora of applications in the field of physics.
There are some limitations to utilizing a TEM. These include several issues that can crop up when preparing samples for analysis. Because an electron gun is going extremely fast and fuels electrons through a tiny and ultra thin specimen, samples must be treated with extreme care to ensure the process doesn’t damage them.
TEM sample preparation and loading can be time-consuming and challenging, especially for amateurs or beginners. There is quite a bit of potential for sample damage and contamination during imaging.
Another challenge with TEM imaging is that the samples have to be a certain thickness for imaging. If your TEM sample is too thick, you won’t be able to fire electrons through it effectively, so you won’t be able to get an image. This limits what kind of biological samples and specimens you can view with a transmission electron microscope.
Since their development, TEMs have been used in all kinds of fields and experiments. By breaking down what’s interesting and unique about these microscopes, we hope to inspire many new people to take an interest in science and examine more about the world around them. Thanks for reading!