Compared to conventional scanning electron microscopy imaging, FIB-SEM 3D nanotomography adds a “cutting” tool, i.e., a focused ion beam (FIB). Due to its heavier mass, FIB will remove a small amount of material, hence expose what’s underneath for imaging. A repetitive FIB milling followed by SEM imaging produces a stack of images, which can be reconstructed into a 3D volume.

The fact that FIB can remove material at nano-meter scale offers an immediate advantage – a truly clean cross section surface can be prepared for SEM imaging. 

Below, cross section of the polymer membrane of a drug pellet sample was prepared using two methods: conventional freeze cleave and FIB polishing. The resulting cross-section SEM images are dramatically different. Due to mechanical fracturing, residue surface topology remains on the cleaved sample, and obscures the microstructure observation. In comparison, the FIB cross section reveals microporosity accurately, and allows both qualitative assessment and quantification.


More importantly, the FIB-SEM experiment produces 3D volume at nanometer scale.