Whether you are in an academic institution, research and development field, or commercial industry, more often than not, you can greatly benefit from having an in-house electron microscope.
But before you make the decision of buying one, it’s important to first have an idea of how much an electron microscope costs, as well as all the things you need to consider when buying an electron microscope.
How much is an electron microscope?
Electron microscopes come in a variety of types and special variations, and these sophisticated imaging devices can easily cost thousands to millions of dollars, depending on which kind of electron microscope you are looking at.
A safe price range would be $50,000 to $200,000 for conventional tabletop scanning electron microscopes (SEMs), or up to a million dollars for the higher-end ones, while transmission electron microscopes (TEMs) can easily go up for tens of millions of dollars.
Which is cheaper: SEMs or TEMs?
Generally speaking, scanning electron microscopes are much cheaper than transmission electron microscopes, but these can still rack up thousands of dollars in cost, not to mention operating expenses and maintenance.
Conventional electron microscopes that don’t feature any special additive tools and technologies generally cost around $10 per electric volt of energy in the electron beam.
Now, you may think that’s small, but keep in mind that scanning electron microscopes operate at a voltage of 50 eV, while transmission electron microscopes require significantly higher voltages of 100 keV to 400 keV.
What determines the price of an electron microscope?
The price of an electron microscope greatly varies depending on what type of applications it will be used for, which will determine the type of electron microscope that is needed, as well as its configurations
These include its resolution and magnification power, the current and voltage of the electron beams, the quality and type of electron detectors and high-speed cameras, the vacuum of the specimen chamber, and even what types of specimens will be imaged.
As with almost any other kind of device, microscope or not, the more sophisticated and powerful the device is, the more expensive it becomes. While you may be tempted to settle with a low priced electron microscope, don’t expect it to let you see down to the atomic level.
What are other costs associated with electron microscopes?
Unfortunately, apart from the already high upfront expense of buying an electron microscope, there are still plenty of other added expenses that will rack up thousands to millions of dollars in the long run.
These include building a special housing facility that is equipped with environmental isolation capabilities, including magnetic field canceling systems. Other expenses include purchasing sample preparation equipment, and additional imaging and analytic devices.
Furthermore, there are also a few monthly expenses to consider, such as the salary of technical staff skilled in sample preparation and operating the equipment, the power consumption of the microscope and other related devices, and the general maintenance of the microscope.
What type of electron microscope should you buy?
Perhaps the most important question that needs to be asked is which type of electron microscope you will benefit from the most. You cannot simply settle with a scanning electron microscope because it’s cheaper if it’s not what will give you the results you need.
There are essentially two basic types of electron microscopes- the scanning electron microscope and the transmission electron microscope. Here are their main differences:
Scanning electron microscope
A scanning electron microscope or SEM emits low voltage, finely focused electron beams to scan the topographical surface of the specimen. It has a lower resolution and magnification than a TEM, but it’s less restrictive in terms of sample type, size and thickness, and preparation.
It’s also relatively fast and easy to use, and has the capability to produce three-dimensional images of the specimen.
Transmission electron microscope
On the other hand, transmission electron microscopes or TEMs transmit high voltages of broad electron beams to penetrate the interior of the specimen. It has the highest magnification and resolution out of all other microscopes, but it’s more restrictive in terms of sample type, size and thickness, and preparations.
It’s also more complicated to use, takes a longer time to image a specimen, and can only render two dimensional magnified images.
What factors do you need to consider when buying an electron microscope?
An electron microscope is a big investment, and while it’s certainly worth it, careful thought and consideration is still a must before purchasing an electron microscope. Here are the most important factors you need to take into account:
The first thing you need to ask yourself is perhaps whether you can even afford buying an electron microscope, and if so, what your budget range is. This will limit the types of electron microscopes that you can purchase.
Of course, you may always opt to buy a pre-owned electron microscope, as long as you have a good eye and a skilled technician to assess whether the microscope is in good condition. Alternatively, you can also simply outsource your electron microscopy needs.
It just goes to say that you should only purchase an equipment that will be useful to the types of applications you intend to use it for. So, you need to contemplate on what it is exactly that you expect out of the microscope.
This includes the types of specimens you want to view under the microscope, the amount of detail that you need to see, and even how often you need to use it, which should tell you what you need in terms of the microscope’s speed.
Another very important consideration is whether you have the right facility to house an electron microscope, especially since not only are these extremely large devices but more importantly, they come with lots of special requirements.
For one thing, the microscope needs to be isolated from the environment, and so the facility must have a system for canceling magnetic fields. Better yet, it should be located underground.
Electron microscopes are highly sophisticated and powerful imaging devices that can easily cost thousands to millions of dollars, which is why it’s important to carefully and thoroughly evaluate your needs, requirements, and expectations before buying one.