Transmission Electron Microscope (TEM)

TEMs are patterned after Transmission Light Microscopes and will yield similar information.


The size, shape and arrangement of the particles which make up the specimen as well as their relationship to each other on the scale of atomic diameters.

Crystallographic Information

The arrangement of atoms in the specimen and their degree of order, detection of atomic-scale defects in areas a few nanometers in diameter.

Compositional Information (if so equipped)

The elements and compounds the sample is composed of and their relative ratios, in areas a few nanometers in diameter.

A TEM works much like a slide projector. A projector shines a beam of light through (transmits) the slide, as the light passes through it is affected by the structures and objects on the slide. These effects result in only certain parts of the light beam being transmitted through certain parts of the slide. This transmitted beam is then projected onto the viewing screen, forming an enlarged image of the slide.

TEMs work the same way except that they shine a beam of electrons (like the light) through the specimen(like the slide). Whatever part is transmitted is projected onto a phosphor screen for the user to see. A more technical explanation of a typical TEMs workings is as follows (refer to the diagram below):

  1. The "Virtual Source" at the top represents the electron gun, producing a stream of monochromatic electrons.
  2. This stream is focused to a small, thin, coherent beam by the use of condenser lenses 1 and 2. The first lens (usually controlled by the "spot size knob") largely determines the "spot size"; the general size range of the final spot that strikes the sample. The second lens(usually controlled by the "intensity or brightness knob" actually changes the size of the spot on the sample; changing it from a wide dispersed spot to a pinpoint beam.
  3. The beam is restricted by the condenser aperture (usually user selectable), knocking out high angle electrons (those far from the optic axis, the dotted line down the center).
  4. The beam strikes the specimen and parts of it are transmitted
  5. This transmitted portion is focused by the objective lens into an image.
  6. Optional Objective and Selected Area metal apertures can restrict the beam; the Objective aperture enhancing contrast by blocking out high-angle diffracted electrons, the Selected Area aperture enabling the user to examine the periodic diffraction of electrons by ordered arrangements of atoms in the sample.
  7. The image is passed down the column through the intermediate and projector lenses, being enlarged all the way.
  8. The image strikes the phosphor image screen and light is generated, allowing the user to see the image. The darker areas of the image represent those areas of the sample that fewer electrons were transmitted through (they are thicker or denser). The lighter areas of the image represent those areas of the sample that more electrons were transmitted through (they are thinner or less dense).