18 R&DMagazine June 2014 www.rdmag.com
Style Meets Substance
JEOL’s series of low-vacuum scanning electron microscopes get equal doses of
technological and stylistic improvements to appeal to a changing customer base.
The electron microscopy market is dom- inated by the scanning electron micro- scope (SEM), which is widely used in both materials and biological analysis as one of
the few ways to reliably image spatial features in
the nanoscale realm. As the user base for SEMs
expands, even specialized varieties of electron
microscopes are undergoing substantial technical transformations.
Low-vacuum scanning electron microscopes
(LV-SEM) are a good example of this “
democratization”. Unlike conventional high-vacuum
SEMs, LV instruments can handle wet, oily or
non-conductive samples without sample preparation. In low-vacuum mode, pressure can be
adjusted in the sample chamber to remove the
deleterious effect of electrons that build up as
charge as the electron beam is rastered on the
In a conventional SEM, the sample would
require treatment to make it conductive so as to
remove these electrons. These built-up electrons
move unpredictably, causing imaging artifacts in
the form of lines or streaks. But for many types
of analysis applications, particularly in biology,
safety and forensics,
altering the sample isn’t possible.
of LV-SEM has prompted a major revision of
JEOL’s line of tungsten/lanthanum hexaboride
(LaB6) LV-SEMs, which now features the new,
and much different, JSM-IT300LV.
New users, new look
In 2011, JEOL and Nikon launched the NeoScope JCM-6000, a bioscience and industrial
benchtop SEM that complemented both optical
microscopy and traditional SEMs with its 5- to
15-kV range, SE and BSE imaging and low-vacuum capability. One of the marquee characteristics
of this instrument, in addition to small size and
low cost, was its unique, stylish appearance that
evoked the sort of minimalist design sensibilities
of Apple or IKEA.
The firm responsible for the NeoScope’s look
is led by Kiyoyuki “Ken” Okuyama, a high-profile
designer of industrial products, most famously
Italian sports cars such as Ferrari and Maserati.
Okuyama’s KO Design was enlisted again to
create the look for the IT300LV. Instead of the
compact white “box” of the NeoScope, the predominant hue of the new LV-SEM is black, and
in multiple finishes. Materials used include a
black metallic chromite and black smoked Lexan,
a first for a scientific instrument of this kind.
“JEOL’s instruments have always looked a bit
utilitarian. This is a radical break of that mind-
set,” says Vern Robertson, SEM technical sales
manager at JEOL, Peabody, Mass. The reason
for a specialized—and high-end—design is two-
fold, he says. First, JEOL’s developers wanted the
instrument to be appealing to users,
some of whom might be
using an electron micro-
scope for the first time, or
who might be only casually
using it as part of a large
research group. The attrac-
tive look helps put users at
ease, and provokes interest
Robertson says the
whole design paid attention to this effect:
“When we do demonstrations of this SEM to
prospective customers, I would say more than
80% of customers look around the instrument,
even behind it. When they see there’s only
one Ethernet cable between the computer and
microscope, they see that, yes, they can install it
easily. It’s less imposing; there’s less things they
have to do.”
The second reason is the impression on
“For a small to mid-size company buying its
first SEM, it’s a big capital investment. They want
to show it off to clients and upper management.
They are doing failure analysis, or R&D work,
and they want to show their clients they are using
the latest, greatest technology,” says Robertson.
In addition to the high-end design, the visual
appeal is aided by an improved iteration of the
graphic user interface that helped JEOL’s 6010
In TouchScope win an R&D 100 Award in 2012.
This analytical SEM was the first to offer the
capability of touchscreen control directly at the
instrument. The traditional interfacing options,
including manual controls and Web-based
remote control, were all retained. The touch-
screen acted much like a tablet computer and
was a positively received control improvement.
The 6010 In TouchScope’s touchscreen interface, incorporating pinch, rotate and swipe
functions was improved for the IT300LV and
updated to feature metallic, 3-D icons and a
customizable layout that complement the external design.
Performance under the skin
Why does a workhorse LV-SEM get such a
design treatment? Robertson says that users of
LV-SEMs are often interdisciplinary groups, or
the purchasing decisions are made by committees that include physicists, materials experts
“Long gone are facilities where individual
scientists have their own SEMs. Increasingly
these are ‘tools’ for more casual users, but not
limiting the functionality to very high-end users
is required,” says Robertson. Today’s instruments
have enough hardware and software safety precautions that both the instrument and the sample are well protected.
The sleek design of JEOL’s latest LV-SEM, the
JSM-IT300LV, was conceived by a noted industrial designer that has done work for Ferrari.