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Difference Between TEM and SEM

Categorized under Science | Difference Between TEM and SEM


Both SEM (scanning electron microscope/microscopy) and TEM (transmission electron

microscope/microscopy) refer both to the instrument and the method used in electron

There are a variety of similarities between the two. Both are types of electron microscopes
and give the possibility of seeing, studying, and examining small, subatomic particles or
compositions of a sample. Both also use electrons (specifically, electron beams), the negative
charge of an atom. Also, both samples in use are required to be stained or mixed with a
particular element in order to produce images. Images produced from these instruments are
highly magnified and have a high resolution.

However, an SEM and TEM also share some differences. The method used in SEM is based
on scattered electrons while TEM is based on transmitted electrons. The scattered electrons in
SEM are classified as backscattered or secondary electrons. However, there is no other
classification of electrons in TEM.

The scattered electrons in SEM produced the image of the sample after the microscope
collects and counts the scattered electrons. In TEM, electrons are directly pointed toward the
sample. The electrons that pass through the sample are the parts that are illuminated in the
The focus of analysis is also different. SEM focuses on the samples surface and its
composition. On the other hand, TEM seeks to see what is inside or beyond the surface. SEM
also shows the sample bit by bit while TEM shows the sample as a whole. SEM also provides
a three-dimensional image while TEM delivers a two-dimensional picture.

In terms of magnification and resolution, TEM has an advantage compared to SEM. TEM has
up to a 50 million magnification level while SEM only offers 2 million as a maximum level
of magnification. The resolution of TEM is 0.5 angstroms while SEM has 0.4 nanometers.
However, SEM images have a better depth of field compared to TEM produced images.
Another point of difference is the sample thickness, staining, and preparations. The sample
in TEM is cut thinner in contrast to a SEM sample. In addition, an SEM sample is stained
by an element that captures the scattered electrons.

In SEM, the sample is prepared on specialized aluminium stubs and placed on the bottom of
the chamber of the instrument. The image of the sample is projected onto the CRT or
television-like screen.
On the other hand, TEM requires the sample to be prepared in a TEM grid and placed in the
middle of the specialized chamber of the microscope. The image is produced by the
microscope via fluorescent screens.

Another feature of SEM is that the area where the sample is placed can be rotated in different
TEM was developed earlier than SEM. TEM was invented by Max Knoll and Ernst Ruska in
1931. Meanwhile, SEM was created in 1942. It was developed at a later time due to the
complexity of the machines scanning process.


1.Both SEM and TEM are two types of electron microscopes and are tools to view and
examine small samples. Both instruments use electrons or electron beams. The images
produced in both tools are highly magnified and offer high resolution.
2.How each microscope works is very different from another. SEM scans the surface of the
sample by releasing electrons and making the electrons bounce or scatter upon impact. The
machine collects the scattered electrons and produces an image. The image is visualized on a
television-like screen. On the other hand, TEM processes the sample by directing an electron
beam through the sample. The result is seen using a fluorescent screen.
3.Images are also a point of difference between two tools. SEM images are three-dimensional
and are accurate representations while TEM pictures are two-dimensional and might require a
little bit of interpretation. In terms of resolution and magnification, TEM gains more
advantages compared to SEM.

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