Enhanced Environmental Scanning Electron Microscopy Using Phase Reconstruction and Its Application in Condensation

Lenan Zhang, Jinlong Zhu, Kyle L. Wilke, Zhenyuan Xu, Lin Zhao, Zhengmao Lu, Lynford L. Goddard, Evelyn N. Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Environmental scanning electron microscopy (ESEM) is a broadly utilized nanoscale inspection technique capable of imaging wet or insulating samples. It extends the application of conventional scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and has been extensively used to study the behavior of liquid, polymer, and biomaterials by allowing for a gaseous environment. However, the presence of gas in the chamber can severely degrade the image resolution and contrast. This typically limits the ESEM operating pressure below 1000 Pa. The dynamic interactions, which require even-higher sensitivity and resolution, are particularly challenging to resolve at high-pressure conditions. Here, we present an enhanced ESEM technique using phase reconstruction to extend the limits of the ESEM operating pressure while improving the image quality, which is useful for sensing weak scattering from transparent or nanoscale samples. We applied this method to investigate the dynamics of condensing droplets, as an example case, which is of fundamental importance and has many industrial applications. We visualized dynamic processes such as single-droplet growth and droplet coalescence where the operating pressure range was extended from 1000 to 2500 Pa. Moreover, we detected the distribution of nucleation sites on the nanostructured surfaces. Such nanoscale sensing has been challenging previously due to the limitation of resolution and sensitivity. Our work provides a simple approach for high-performance ESEM imaging at high-pressure conditions without changes to the hardware and can be widely applied to investigate a broad range of static and dynamic processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1953-1960
Number of pages8
JournalACS Nano
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 26 2019


  • Condensation
  • Dynamic processes
  • Environmental scanning electron microscopy
  • Nanoscale sensing
  • Nucleation sites
  • Phase imaging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Materials Science
  • General Engineering
  • General Physics and Astronomy


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