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DIY Scanning Electron Microscope
March 21, 2011 1:45 PM   Subscribe

Area man builds scanning electron microscope in garage.
posted by mhjb (32 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
Did he use it to look at onion cells?
posted by dunkadunc at 1:48 PM on March 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


Doc, you don't just walk into a store and buy plutonium.
posted by theodolite at 1:49 PM on March 21, 2011 [8 favorites]


How many smoke detectors and camping lanterns did he take apart to do it ?
posted by k5.user at 1:53 PM on March 21, 2011


(That said, a number of his other projects are quite interesting. Wish there was more substance than presented, unless there are great details in the video)
posted by k5.user at 1:58 PM on March 21, 2011


Didn't some teenager do this for a science fair project years ago?
posted by b1tr0t at 1:58 PM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Damn, Area Man is busy.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 1:58 PM on March 21, 2011 [7 favorites]


Area Man, Area Man, does whatever an... area... can?
posted by Wolfdog at 1:59 PM on March 21, 2011 [12 favorites]


I did transmission EM in college. About 95% of it was preparation: dissecting the rat to get the tissue sample, mounting and fixing samples in osmium and epoxy, getting good slices with the ultramicrotome, getting the vacuum going.

Once the copper slides were in place, any photos had to be taken quickly, because the electron beam would otherwise burn through the sample, like a movie projector with a piece of film stuck in the shutter.

Then we did a few hours of darkroom techniques, which is where I learned where the dodging and burning tools in Photoshop come from. I imagine everything is digital, nowadays.

Can't wait to see the refinements.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:59 PM on March 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


A long time ago, I listened to a presentation by the people who made the first scanning tunneling electron microscope*. They explained that most of their experimental difficulties came in the form of eliminating various sources of noise: trucks moving nearby, someone walking in the next room, breathing, and such. They went to ridiculous lengths to isolate the system from various forms of vibration, even going so far as to have the apparatus on a platform, floating, repulsed from a magnetic field using superconductors like you might see in various magnetic levitation demonstrations which are now commonplace (with liquid nitrogen and — relatively — high-temperature superconductors). Of course, they'd have to insulate it and keep it cool, then have pumps supply the liquid nitrogen, and on and on.

After this spiel, one of the gentlemen paused and said that, by the end, they found that they could simply suspend it all using the equivalent of rubber bands and bungee cords.

* Which scored them a Nobel, because the tunneling part is wicked cool and a huge improvement over just a regular scanning electron microscope
posted by adipocere at 2:03 PM on March 21, 2011 [8 favorites]


"finest quality, superior workmanship"
"there is a maker's serial number "9906947-XB71, interesting"
"Not fish. Snake scale."

posted by poe at 2:06 PM on March 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


A friend of mine bought a used SEM and had it in his living room, across from the (multiple) air-cooled Cray supercomputers. He's rearranged the website, but has pictures of the Crays somewhere..
posted by mrbill at 2:14 PM on March 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


I wonder if he could help me to find the ex-wife's heart...
posted by Samizdata at 2:15 PM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is so cool. I built an instrument very similar to this in grad school. I had a very similar electron stack, though I had two sets of deflectors, right at the gun and after the focus---linearity was important for what I was doing. I'm betting he's spent many hours tuning the electron beam parameters.

I love that he's using sparkplugs as his high-voltage vacuum passthroughs. That's old-school high-voltage hacker tech: a $3 part that's good to 10 kV.

I'm honestly surprised he's bothering with a cooler for the oil baffle. The diff pump will work ok without it. the baffle alone, is usually enough. The three months I spent refurbishing a spectrometer after an unbaffled pump burped means that he's probably been there in the past too. I can understand his caution.

It's a bit surprising to me that he's able to get both good (enough) alignment and electrical isolation with teflon plates. Telfon is soft, which means it's rather undependable as a space and its surfaces often crap up with ionized resides (and turns brown) which lead to high-voltage breakdowns. He may just be lucky so far, as he's not put anything organic on his sample stage yet.

Very cool project.
posted by bonehead at 2:18 PM on March 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


* Which scored them a Nobel, because the tunneling part is wicked cool and a huge improvement over just a regular scanning electron microscope

Not really an improvement. STM is a surface characterization "scanning probe" technology, which has pretty limited applications. There are many, many more applications for scanning electron microscopy. They're really totally different technologies, with different uses.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:24 PM on March 21, 2011


Wolfdog: "Area Man, Area Man, does whatever an... area... can"

Is he a surface? Or is he a plane? Does he only exist within your brain?

Nobody knows. Area Man.
posted by Reverend John at 2:34 PM on March 21, 2011 [15 favorites]


This is so cool. Why doesn't he have the plans on his site?
posted by TwelveTwo at 2:39 PM on March 21, 2011


I expected an Onion article, due to both Area Man and the fact that I thought this stuff was impossible for mere mortals.
posted by mccarty.tim at 2:46 PM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Can't watch the video right now. Did he go the bungee cord route for isolating vibration or use a big pit of sand?
posted by benzenedream at 2:57 PM on March 21, 2011


Didn't some teenager do this for a science fair project years ago?

Yes. With legos. And it wasn't just a microscope but a novel design. He went to my school!
posted by grobstein at 3:07 PM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I love putting this in the context of his other blog entries. His mind seems to work something like this:

Hmmm, I'm bored...what to do next...

- Started a petition regarding Blue Cross insurance costs - CHECK

- Built complex optical joystick - CHECK

- Installed beer taps in my house - CHECK

Oh, I know! I'll build a scanning electron microscope!

posted by Muddler at 3:09 PM on March 21, 2011


Hey wow, great. Thanks for making me feel like even more of a lazy slob.
posted by nevercalm at 3:19 PM on March 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh, I know! I'll build a scanning electron microscope!

Yeah, he's pretty awesome when you look at the entire body of work.
posted by eriko at 3:19 PM on March 21, 2011


I feel inadequate now.
posted by pharm at 3:34 PM on March 21, 2011


poe, you're dead right. The world is getting more Blade Runner-y all the time.
(Still waiting for my damn Spinner...)
posted by djrock3k at 3:34 PM on March 21, 2011


Makes liquid nitrogen.
posted by warbaby at 4:43 PM on March 21, 2011


Didn't some teenager do this for a science fair project years ago?

Yes. With legos. And it wasn't just a microscope but a novel design. He went to my school!


Interesting. This is that former Westinghouse winner. He's now a professor at Harvard and has two PhDs. I've had the privilege of teaching him at a Woods Hole summer course. I remember the instructors all being pretty impressed by the fact that he got two PhDs (his work is pretty impressive too, to be fair).
posted by pombe at 6:24 PM on March 21, 2011


Bingo, found pictures of the Crays as they were when I saw them in '01.
posted by mrbill at 7:21 PM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Along with better pictures of the SEM.
posted by mrbill at 7:22 PM on March 21, 2011


I have some photomultiplier tubes with really nice machined aluminum housing for anyone who wants to try building this :)
posted by Chuckles at 9:30 PM on March 21, 2011


Isn't there a word in Adams' and Lloyd's The Meaning of Liff meaning "the sort of unregarded little man who is building a new kind of atom bomb in his shed"?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:51 AM on March 22, 2011


"the sort of unregarded little man who is building a new kind of atom bomb in his shed"

Don't worry. After making a few hundred kilograms of plutonium in his garage, he'll remember that he hasn't finished the handles for his hallway beer taps yet and work on that instead.
posted by Cironian at 12:21 PM on March 22, 2011


Scientific American's Amateur Scientist had a homemade transmission EM back in the olden days (probably in the 1970s). I can probably get you a PDF if you MeFiMail me.
posted by neuron at 9:21 PM on March 22, 2011


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