Cross-Sectional TEM Analysis

Cross-sectional transmission electron microscopy (Cross-sectional TEM), is a method for achieving high-resolution images from cross-sections of larger materials. The studied area can be selected from a larger particle and the area of interest is then imaged with TEM. This method combines sample preparation techniques and TEM. The method is widely used in material science and nanotechnology.

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Cross-sectional TEM is similar to regular TEM, but the images are taken from cross-sections of the imaged materials.

A transmission electron microscope (TEM) uses a high-energy electron beam to form high-resolution images. TEM produces highly detailed images of the internal structures of samples less than 100 nm thick. Cross-sectional TEM  is widely used in material science, cell biology, and nanotechnology to image internal structures of materials that are otherwise too large for TEM.

In TEM, the sample thickness must be 100 nm or less. Preparation procedures for such thin samples can be complex. Sometimes the desired area for imagining is inside the sample. For example, when the boundary between layers in thin film materials is in the focus.

There are two main methods to obtain a cross-sectional sample for TEM.

A microtome is a machine that uses blades to slice the sample into 60-100nm thick chips. The blades are made of glass, steel, or diamond. Microtomes can be used to prepare samples from bones, minerals, and polymeric materials such as plastics. Sometimes, samples are molded in epoxy before microtomy.

A focused ion beam (FIB) is a nano-machining technique that uses a high currency ion beam to mill the cross-sectional sample out from a larger object. FIB uses a dual ion beam to carve peace of the original sample. This piece is removed with a carrier and mounted for thinning. The Sample is then thinned with an ion beam to match the sample requirements. It can be used in many cases, for example when the thickness and the uniformity of a thin film coating need to be determined.

Cross-sectional TEM is just one of the common methods for analyzing the thickness of thin films. Our blog article on thin film thickness measurement provides more information and guidance on method selection.

Suitable sample matrices

  • Materials that are too large for normal TEM.
  • Thin films
  • Semiconductors
  • Metals
  • Bone
  • Tissues

Ideal uses of cross-sectional TEM

  • Cross sectional imaging of semiconductors.
  • Imaging of thin film layers.
  • High resolution imaging for failure analysis.
  • Nanoparticle characterisation.
  • Semiconductor research.
  • Fault finding in material studies.
  • Multilayer thin material analyses.
  • Cell imaging in bone research.

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Frequently asked questions

What is Cross-sectional TEM commonly used for?

Cross-sectional TEM is used when the area of interest is inside of the sample, or the sample is too large for TEM imaging. TEM produces high-resolution 2D images.

What are the limitations of Cross-sectional TEM?

Some materials may be too brittle for the preparation of the cross-sections.

What kinds of samples can be analyzed with Cross-sectional TEM?

A very wide range of materials can be examined with cross-sectional TEM. High-resolution images can be produced from rocks and minerals, bones, metals, thin films, and semiconductor materials.

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Measurlabs offers a variety of laboratory analyses for product developers and quality managers. We perform some of the analyses in our own lab, but mostly we outsource them to carefully selected partner laboratories. This way we can send each sample to the lab that is best suited for the purpose, and offer high-quality analyses with more than a thousand different methods to our clients.

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