Are you old enough to remember watching your favorite super heroes save the world on an old black-and-white television? The scenario: in order to save the world, they had to defuse a bomb by cutting the right wire. But with everything in greyscale, all the wires looked the same to you. Flash forward to the advent of colored televisions. While our super heroes still have just two seconds to defuse the bomb, you are now able to more fully appreciate their stress as they try to remember if they need to cut the red, yellow or green wires. It’s the RED one, you yell at the screen.
It’s not just in the fictional world that seeing in color can make a big difference, but also in reality. Take the world of scanning electron microscopy (SEM). Using SEM, scientists can examine features down to the nanoscale. Yet with the greyscale images SEM provides, areas in the image can sometimes look nearly identical when the question is, are they really?
(Left) With the greyscale images provided by scanning electron microscopes, the two areas in this image look almost identical. (Right) Elemental analysis with EDS shows us that these materials are actually radically different.
As the above side-by-side images demonstrate, areas of a greyscale image can look almost the same when, in fact, they are actually radically different. And by limiting themselves to greyscale images, scientists can miss critical information that could prevent them from improving the performance, durability, or integrity of their materials.
One way scientists obtain color images is by using SEM imaging in combination with Energy Dispersive X-ray Spectroscopy (EDS), an X-ray microanalytical technique that can provide color information about the elemental composition of a sample. Yet conventional EDS analysis can be intimidating for inexperienced users. And it can be time-consuming to move from SEM to EDS analysis back to SEM to obtain and analyze color images for each sample.
What if you had the ability to automatically differentiate a feature of your sample because you have live elemental information available to you any time? How would that change your research? Let us know in the comments.
EJ Vesseur is a product marketing manager at Thermo Fisher Scientific.