Electron microscopes have electron optical lens systems that are analogous to the glass lenses of an optical light microscope.
Electron microscopes are used to investigate the ultrastructure of a wide range of biological and inorganic specimens including microorganisms, cells, large molecules, biopsy samples, metals, and crystals. Industrially, electron microscopes are often used for quality control and failure analysis. Modern electron microscopes produce electron micrographs using specialized digital cameras and frame grabbers to capture the image.
The physicist Ernst Ruska and the electrical engineer Max Knoll constructed the prototype electron microscope in 1931, capable of four-hundred-power magnification; the apparatus was the first demonstration of the principles of electron microscopy. Two years later, in 1933, Ruska built an electron microscope that exceeded the resolution attainable with an optical (light) microscope. Moreover, Reinhold Rudenberg, the scientific director of Siemens-Schuckertwerke, obtained the patent for the electron microscope in May 1931.
In 1932, Ernst Lubcke of Siemens & Halske built and obtained images from a prototype electron microscope, applying concepts described in the Rudenberg patent applications. Five years later (1937), the firm financed the work of Ernst Ruska and Bodo von Borries, and employed Helmut Ruska (Ernst’s brother) to develop applications for the microscope, especially with biological specimens. Also in 1937, Manfred von Ardenne pioneered the scanning electron microscope. The first commercial electron microscope was produced in 1938 by Siemens. The first North American electron microscope was constructed in 1938, at the University of Toronto, by Eli Franklin Burton and students Cecil Hall, James Hillier, and Albert Prebus; and Siemens produced a transmission electron microscope (TEM) in 1939. Although contemporary transmission electron microscopes are capable of two million-power magnification, as scientific instruments, they remain based upon Ruska’s prototype.
The original form of electron microscope, the transmission electron microscope (TEM), uses a high voltage electron beam to illuminate the specimen and create an image. The electron beam is produced by an electron gun, commonly fitted with a tungsten filament cathode as the electron source. The electron beam is accelerated by an anode typically at +100 keV (40 to 400 keV) with respect to the cathode, focused by electrostatic and electromagnetic lenses, and transmitted through the specimen that is in part transparent to electrons and in part scatters them out of the beam. When it emerges from the specimen, the electron beam carries information about the structure of the specimen that is magnified by the objective lens system of the microscope. The spatial variation in this information (the "image") may be viewed by projecting the magnified electron image onto a fluorescent viewing screen coated with a phosphor or scintillator material such as zinc sulfide. Alternatively, the image can be photographically recorded by exposing a photographic film or plate directly to the electron beam, or a high-resolution phosphor may be coupled by means of a lens optical system or a fibre optic light-guide to the sensor of a digital camera. The image detected by the digital camera may be displayed on a monitor or computer.