6th January 2021 | Author: Anthony Hyde
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we work today, and some believe will change the way we work forever. For the fortunate ones that could work from home, office technology has, in general, been up to the task. Companies and employees have learned to adapt to different ways of working and have embraced on-line meetings and virtual conferences.
Unfortunately, not all remote working has been so straightforward. For those attempting SEM-EDS analysis remotely, the experience could be described as frustrating and slow. All but the most determined have fallen at the first hurdle. Aside from connection problems, one of the most time-consuming issues is setting up two remote connections: one for the SEM and one for the EDS system. This generally means users continual switching between the two connections as they investigate their samples. The majority of SEM-EDS installations were never designed to be used in this way. Which means, if this type of working is to become the norm, then the software must adapt.
We found the main issue was the continuous switching back and forth between the SEM and the EDS system. The fundamental aspect to any analysis is to see the electron image while moving around a sample and when something of interest is discovered, stop, and acquire EDS data. Within the AZtec software platform we have the components that can help with this, but because they were never designed with remote working in mind, they were not intimately linked. For example, we have Live Chemical Imaging where we acquire a live electron image, live X-Ray maps and live spectrum. We can also register an image of the sample currently being analysed for stage control. However, these two functions were until now not closely/ergonomically linked for remote working.
AZtec remote operation and a common user case
With the latest release of the AZtecLive platform we have made significant modification to our software to incorporate ‘Remote Working’ as a fundamental design concept. Let us take a common user example as that of a lab manager who wants to set up an SEM equipped with an EDS system for remote analysis. For that case, there is an important requirement to maximise the system usage by putting in as many samples as possible. These samples can be for one or more users. Each remote user will be allocated a time slot to access the microscope and will not want to waste time in setting up the system or be frustrated by a complicated sample investigation process.
The lab manager will mount several samples on a microscope stub holder, then take a photo of the entire holder with a Smartphone or a dedicated optical camera. If the samples are relatively large the lab manager might also take individual photos of the samples. While the samples are pumping down in the microscope the images can be imported into the AZtecLive PC. At this stage, the images can be annotated if desired to identify each sample.
These images can then be imported into and registered in AZtecLive. If any of the samples are small or the registered image requires more detail, the lab manager can take an electron image of the sample and register it. If the sample is relatively big but more detail is required, then a quick Large Area Electron Image can be acquired, and the montaged image will be automatically registered as shown in the example below:
When the remote user accesses the system the overall image of the sample holder is simply selected. Double clicking on the sample to be analysed automatically addresses the microscope stage, which will then automatically bring the sample into the field of view and the analysis can begin.
Alternatively, if an individual image of the particular sample has been registered, then this can be used instead.
One of the main frustrations from users was that after an analysis of an area was completed, the process of moving to a new area was time consuming. Instead of going back to the image registration step or the SEM interface, the user can take advantage of a new ‘Pop-Up’ stage control panel. This is accessed via the status bar at the bottom of the AZtecLive user interface. All users have to do now is to ‘double click’ on the area of the sample that they wish to move to.
These latest modifications to the AZtecLive platform have made remote SEM-EDS investigation a much productive and enjoyable experience, whether as a single user trying to find areas on a complex sample, or where multiple samples for multiple users have been loaded into the microscope.