The exact birth of the scanning microscope principle is not clear, as the work of numerous scientists contributed to its inception. However, it is generally accepted that the first scanning microscope was built by Max Knoll in 1935. Early use of the technology saw it used for the study of the secondary emission properties of television camera tube targets.
Since then, the versatile scanning electron microscope has become a vital research tool for numerous fields of science. More recently, it has become invaluable to nanoscience and nanotechnology, where it is routinely used to investigate the structure of materials to the spatial resolution of just 1 nanometer. Since the discovery of nanoparticles, scanning microscope technology has assumed an important role in characterizing nanostructures.
Image Credit: NicoElNino/Shutterstock.com
Applying SEM to Nanoscience
Scanning electron microscopes have various applications in several fields, including materials science, nanotechnology, life sciences, semiconductors and others. Research institutes and pharmaceutical companies use scanning electron microscopes to obtain vital information on the surface morphology and properties of a material, such as topography, chemical analysis, and fractography.
In materials science, scanning electron microscopes are used for research, quality control and failure analysis. In recent years, their role has been most important in the exploration of nanotubes and nanofibres, as well as the investigation of high-temperature superconductors, mesoporous architectures and alloy strength. Today, almost all fields of material science, such as aerospace, energy, electronics, and more, rely on scanning electron microscopes for their most important innovations.
Scanning electron microscopes also have important applications in the fields of semiconductor research, microchip assembly, forensic investigations, and biological sciences, such as measuring the effect of climate change, testing vaccinations, identifying bacteria and viruses, and uncovering new species.
Image Credit: Juan Ci/Shutterstock.com
Hot Topics in SEM
The most talked about application of scanning electron microscopy in recent years is likely to be tis use in nanotechnology. Over the last two decades, nanoparticles have become increasingly important to our world.
Nanoparticles are used in sunscreen, cosmetics, clean energy, biotechnology, nanosensors, chemicals, coatings, ceramics, and more. They are unique because of the different properties they have compared with their bulk material counterpart due to their small size. Because we could not see them until our technology was advanced enough to visualize them, we had relatively little time to study them. Scanning electron microscopes are vitally important to developing our understanding of nanoparticles and how they can be used in novel applications.
For example, in March 2023, a paper was published in the journal Scientific Reports that details how a scanning electron microscope was used to demonstrate how silver nanoparticles can be used to reduce the symptoms of brown blotch, one of the important diseases in cultivated mushrooms, in vivo. The use of the scanning electron microscope in the exploration of nanoparticles will likely continue to be a hot topic over the next decade, with many important revelations likely to come out of research in this field.
Current Global Market of SEM
The global market for scanning electron microscopes was valued at $3.4 billion in 2020 and is predicted to grow at a CAGR of 8.5% between 2021 and 2028. Key drivers of this market growth will come from a rising demand for nanotechnology-based research as well as the increased funding this area is receiving. Additionally, increasing applications of scanning electron microscopes in the semiconductor industry, as well as the electronics and pharmaceutical industries is further pushing the market forward. Finally, advancements in the resolution power of scanning microscope devices with help to accelerate growth over the next decade.
Image Credit: Microspectacular/Shutterstock.com
The COVID-19 pandemic had a profound effect on industries across the globe. For many, the forced economic downturn was detrimental; for some, such as pharmaceutical and medical devices, the pandemic experienced a surge in demand. The scanning electron microscope sector both benefited and suffered from the impact of the pandemic.
Certain segments, such as the scanning electron microscope within automobile, semiconductor and aerospace industries, have experienced a negative impact, whereas the microscopic software industry for healthcare has benefited. These impacts will likely linger throughout the decade.
In 2020, Asia Pacific had the largest share of global revenue, at 36%. It is predicted that this region will continue to dominate through to 2028. It will also likely grow at the fastest CAGR. Growth in the application areas of automobiles, pharmaceuticals, nanotechnology, and semiconductors will be the biggest drivers of growth in this region.
North America is currently the second-largest regional market, accounting for 34% of the revenue share in 2020. Between 2021 and 2028, the market in this region is expected to grow at a CAGR of 7.9%. The high number of clinical trials in North America is attributed to the strong growth in this region. North American countries are particularly active in research in biotechnology, life sciences, and pharmaceuticals, which will accelerate the demand for scanning electron microscopes over the next decade.
Key players in this industry include Bruker Corp., Danish Micro Engineering (DME), Thermo Fisher Scientific, Hitachi High Technologies Corp., JEOL Ltd., Leica Microsystems, Nanoscience Instruments, Inc., Nikon Corp., Olympus Corp., and Carl Zeiss.
Future Directions of SEM
The rise in the nanotechnology segment will have a profound impact on the scanning electron microscope industry. There is increasing demand from this industry for tools that are more compact and efficient while also being more cost-effective. This will drive technological advancements in the industry, likely to result in cheaper technology and increased miniaturization of platforms.
In the coming years, the scanning electron microscope will likely be used to make important steps forward in nanotechnology. The two sectors will likely develop alongside each other, with demands from nanotechnology reproach driving advancements in scanning electron microscope technology.
While the scanning electron microscope has been around for almost a century, now could be the era when the technology reaches its peak. With growing demand for the technology, particularly from the field of nanoscience, scanning electron microscopes have never been more important and more relied upon for collecting vital information in scientific studies.
References and Further Reading
Ghasemi, S., Harighi, B. and Ashengroph, M. (2023) Biosynthesis of silver nanoparticles using pseudomonas canadensis, and its antivirulence effects against pseudomonas tolaasii, mushroom brown blotch agent. Scientific Reports, 13(1). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-023-30863-x.
Scanning Electron Microscopes Market Size, Share & Trends Analysis Report By Application (Life Science, Nanotechnology), By Region (APAC, North America), And Segment Forecasts, 2021 - 2028 [Online]. Grand View Research. Available at: https://www.grandviewresearch.com/industry-analysis/scanning-electron-microscope-market (Accessed on March 2023)
Schmitt, R. (2014) “Scanning electron microscope,” CIRP Encyclopedia of Production Engineering, pp. 1085–1089. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-20617-7_6595.
Wang, Y. and Petrova, V. (2012) “Scanning electron microscopy,” Nanotechnology Research Methods for Foods and Bioproducts, pp. 103–126. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781118229347.ch6.