Initial Publication Date: April 20, 2021

Zeiss Supra 55VP at Imaging and Chemical Analysis Laboratory (ICAL)

Montana State University-Bozeman, ICAL Website

Contact Information

Sara Zacher (Lab Manager) or Recep Avci (Lab Director)

406 994 4199



Instrument Type

Zeiss Supra 55VP Field Emission Scanning Electron Microscope

Zeiss Supra 55.jpg
Zeiss Supra 55 VP Field Emission Scanning Electron Microscope[creative commons]
Provenance: Dave Mogk, Montana State University-Bozeman
Reuse: This item is offered under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license You may reuse this item for non-commercial purposes as long as you provide attribution and offer any derivative works under a similar license.

This instrument has spatial resolution down to ~ 5 nanometers. Features of this instrument include:

  • Variable Pressure operating mode that can accommodate introduction and imaging of biological samples
  • EDS energy dispersive spectrometer; currently equipped with the Oxford AZTEC EDS system; is capable of acquiring very fast elemental maps (in minutes), quantitative spot analyses, advanced deconvolution routines to correct for peak overlaps.
  • Back-scattered electron imaging
  • Cryogenic sample preparation stage for analysis of biological tissues, biofilms without introducing artifacts from sample preparation, and the ability to image snow and ice microstructures; 


The Field Emission SEM (FEM) has spatial resolution down to ~ 5 nanometers, and is routinely used for imaging (size, shape, morphology) of all types of physical, biological, engineered and natural materials. Back-scattered electron imaging is used for phase discrimination based on differences in mean atomic number.  EDS systems are used to acquire elemental compositional data in spot mode and elemental maps.

Typical Use:

This FESEM has optimal spatial resolution down to ~5 nanometers. It has recently been updated with an Oxford Aztec EDS system that provides exceptional peak resolution, sub-micron scale elemental X-ray mapping, and quantitative analysis software routines. This FESEM also has a cryogenic stage which is commonly used to image "soft sample" biological samples (tissues, microbes, biofilms) without introducing sample preparation artifacts (e.g., from critical point drying), and we also image the texture and morphology of ice samples. The EBSD detector will be updated in the near future. Variable pressure allows us to image many samples without applying a conducting coat.

Conditions for Use:

  • Submitted samples will be analyzed on a contract basis (i.e. lab personnel will do the work)
  • Visitors are invited to work in the lab to work with lab personnel Visitors are invited to work in the lab to design and do the work yourself
  • Training Session (short course) is offered ICAL is a regional, user-oriented lab facility.
  • Staff are available for consultancies to help with proof-of-concept, experimental design, optimization of instruments for the defined tasks, and data interpretation.
  • ICAL is a node of the National Nanotechnology Coordinated Infrastructure program, and our mission is to extend use of these instruments to support research across the STEM disciplines in academic and corporate research. Some limited funds are available through the NNCI/MONT NSF award to support pilot research projects. Please visit for details.

User Fees:

Contact the lab manager for details about user fees. In general, user fees are applied only to actual beam time for instrument use and staff time. Additional nominal charges are applied for using the sample coaters.

Instrument Priorities:

Scheduling is supervised by the lab manager. In general, class demonstrations/projects are scheduled to accommodate academic schedules. External clients (other universities, government agencies, corporate) are scheduled for rapid turn-around of results. All certified users (who take our ~10 hour short courses) are authorized to sign up for instrument use 24/7 at our reservation site: . We prefer certified users to design and implement their own experiments, but lab staff are available to assist independent users as needed in experiment design, instrument operation and interpretation of results.

Remote Use:

Remote operation is not directly possible for any of the ICAL instruments. But in response to the COVID lockdowns, we have implemented use of real-time video delivery to allow external users to observe analysis of their samples and to provide for direct interaction and decision-making as the experiments proceed.

Sample Preparation:

Standard SEM mounts are used. Polished thin sections of geological materials are optimal for BSE and CL imaging, and EDS spot analyses and elemental X-ray mapping. Irregular samples on the cm-scale or smaller can be accommodated in the large sample chamber. Biological samples can be prepared using our critical point dryer.
Carbon sputter coater and metal sputter coaters (Au, Au/Pd, Ir) are used to put a conducting coat on insulating samples.

Standard Collections/Lab Blanks:

A collection of ~50 standards (from NIST, USGS) of rock-forming minerals is available for standards-based quantitative analysi


Zeiss image collection software and Oxford Aztec EDS software are used to obtain secondary electron images, back-scattered electron images, X-ray elemental maps, elemental line scans, and point elemental analyses.

Educational Use:

  • Class demonstrations are available for undergraduates
  • Class demonstrations are available for K-12
  • Undergraduate student research projects are invited
  • Graduate student research projects are invited
  • Tutorials and other educational materials related to the lab are available
  • ICAL routinely offers class demonstrations and supports course projects across the STEM disciplines. We encourage interested users to take our 10 hour short courses in the operation of each instrument to become independent users of this facility as part of our professional training program.

Support provided by:

The ICAL facility is partly funded by the NSF National Nanotechnology Coordinated Infrastructure Program, award #2025391, Montana Nanotechnology Facility (MONT)