The SEM is routinely used to generate high-resolution images of shapes of objects (SEI) and to show spatial variations in chemical compositions: 1) acquiring elemental maps or spot chemical analyses using EDS, 2)discrimination of phases based on mean atomic number (commonly related to relative density) using BSE, and 3) compositional maps based on differences in trace element "activitors" (typically transition metal and Rare Earth elements) using CL. The SEM is also widely used to identify phases based on qualitative chemical analysis and/or crystalline structure. Precise measurement of very small features and objects down to 50 nm in size is also accomplished using the SEM. Backescattered electron images (BSE) can be used for rapid discrimination of phases in multiphase samples. SEMs equipped with diffracted backscattered electron detectors (EBSD) can be used to examine microfabric and crystallographic orientation in many materials.
The nature of the SEM's probe, energetic electrons, makes it uniquely suited to examining the optical and electronic properties of semiconductor materials. The high-energy electrons from the SEM beam will inject charge carriers into the semiconductor. Thus, beam electrons lose energy by promoting electrons from the valence band into the conduction band, leaving behind holes.
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