Researchers at the Canadian Museum of Nature work at an incredible array of scales, from mountain ranges and whales, down to diatoms and atomic structures. At the smaller end of this range, we need microscopes to help us better describe our samples, but even large-scale fields of study can benefit from a close look at the microscale.
One of our most versatile tools is the scanning electron microscope (SEM). By using a very fine beam of electrons that interacts with the sample surface, it allows us to study things that are orders of magnitude smaller than what we can typically see with an optical microscope. This process provides very detailed information about the topography and make-up of the sample.
It is a powerful instrument that is used to learn about all kinds of natural materials from the plant, animal and mineral kingdoms. The pictures below show some of the varied and interesting samples examined by museum researchers using the SEM. Take note of the scale bar in each image to get a better idea of the actual size of the subjects.
The SEM excels at imaging small subjects, but surprisingly, it is also very good at imaging relatively large things.
The SEM can also show us unexpected sides of objects we use in everyday life.
Hopefully these images have shown you how important the SEM is to the work of the researchers at the Canadian Museum of Nature. Notice how interesting and beautiful the world is when we are seeing with electrons?