Scanning Electron Microscopy


Membrane structures of macromolecular dimensions were imaged with high resolution secondary electron type I (SE-I) signal contrasts on metal coated biological specimens. The quality of the surface information was strongly dependent on the signal used for microscopy and on the properties of metal films, i.e., thickness, continuity, structure and decoration effects. Films of 10 nm thickness produced so much type II electrons that identical images were obtained with the conventional SE-II and BSE-II signals. In such images, the type I SE signal was so low that only very weak contrasts were recognizable. If the films - continuous or discontinuous - were composed of large metal aggregates (gold and platinum) a strong micro-roughness contrast was produced by the type II signal. At high magnifications (100,000 x) this background signal greatly reduced the S/N ratio of the SE-I signal. A similar effect was previously shown to be produced by the type III background signal. The type II background signal minimized when continuous films of small aggregates (tantalum and chromium) were applied. SE-I contrast dominated in the image if the film thickness was limited to 1 nm. Additionally, it was found that gold and platinum decorated membrane surface structures, < 20 nm in size, and did not reveal all the topographic information available (size, shape, orientation spacing of small surface features) but merely displayed center-to-center distances. These decoration effects were avoided and extensive topographic information was obtained through surface coating with Ta or Cr.

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