Microstructural Studies Unit

Our MicroStructural Studies Unit (MSSU), the electron microscopy facility of the University of Surrey, was established in 1970 to support a wide range of research activities across the University and to offer electron microscopy services to industry.


After 40 years of continuous development, we employ experienced microscopists and house a comprehensive range of state-of-the-art instruments such as, transmission electron microscopes (TEM), scanning electron microscopes (SEM) and sample preparation equipment.

Our unit is essential for a wide range of ongoing research projects and makes a significant contribution to undergraduate and postgraduate teaching. Research activities are numerous but presently include nanoparticles and nanocomposites (all material types), opto-electronic materials, advanced metallurgical structures, metal to polymer interfacial studies, etc.


We work in close collaboration with the Surface Analysis Laboratory here at the University. A combination of state-of-the-art instrumentation, expertise in data interpretation and materials knowledge, enables experienced academics and technical staff to select the right combination of techniques for undertaking materials related research and development or solving technical problems.

Such work includes product development, failure analysis, process problems, surface contaminants, verification of material composition and so forth.

Available instruments

Listed below are the instruments we have here at the University. If you are interested in having a sample analysed, then please email the Unit Manager, David Jones.


The JEOL JSM-7100F is a highly versatile, easy- to-use analytical field emission SEM with a spatial resolution of 1.2 nm at 30 kV. The MSSU microscope is fitted with a Thermo Scientific triple analysis system, featuring an UltraDry EDS detector, a MagnaRay parallel beam WDS spectrometer and a QuasOr system for electron backscattered diffraction (EBSD).

All three analytical functions are integrated into a single Noran System 7 data system to allow integration between three complementary techniques.

Hitachi S4000 SEM

The Hitachi S4000 SEM is a high resolution microscope with a cold cathode field emission electron source (FESEM). This SEM also has a solid state backscattered electron detector for atomic contrast imaging.

It's ease of use and high resolution makes this a very versatile instrument for many users’ applications, complimenting the other microscopes available in the MSSU.

Philips CM200 TEM

The Philips CM200 transmission electron microscope (TEM) operating at up to 200 kV is a very versatile microscope. The computer controlled eucentric sample holder can tilt from -45º to +45º along the A axis and -30º to +30º along the B axis making it ideal for diffraction work.

The CM200 can also achieve a line resolution of 0.14nm with the same holder, as good as a dedicated HRTEM. Furthermore the attached ultra-thin window EDX detector and Electron Energy Loss Spectrometer (EELS) make the CM200 a true analytical microscope.

Hitachi S3200N SEM

The HITACHI S3200N is our most versatile instrument. It has a large specimen chamber, a back scattered electron detector and a variable pressure mode (VP-SEM) allowing the examination of non-conducting and ‘wet’ samples with no special sample preparation.

Combined with an ultra-thin window Energy Dispersive X-ray (EDX) detector for qualitative/ quantitative elemental analysis, this SEM is a workhorse for investigating all manner of problematic samples, helping our clients find solutions to their problems and enabling students to produce high quality results in all fields of science and technology.

Hitachi HD2300A STEM

The HD2300A STEM is a high performance FEG-STEM with a point resolution of 0.2 nm. The instrument is equipped with X-ray analysis (EDX) and parallel EELS (low atomic number and chemical state) spectroscopy and imaging facilities.

How we can help you

In the past few years we have undertaken work for more than 50 different clients. We have worked to develop links with the local community and we are proud to offer electron microscopy services to many technological businesses and research organisations in the south east of England.

Our portfolio of clients encompasses both the public and private sector and their custom is highly valued. We offer competitive rates for SEM, STEM and TEM analytical work.

If you have a particular research problem and would like further information on sponsoring a PhD project where a student can come work for you then contact a member of staff in your area of interest. You can also find further information on becoming a sponsor for our EngD course on the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Micro- and NanoMaterials and Technologies (MiNMaT) website.

Surface analysis techniques can be used to solve problems in a huge range of areas, some of which are listed below.

  • Adhesive failure analysis/delamination
  • Identification of surface contamination
  • Assessment of cleaning procedures
  • Elemental composition – bulk and surface
  • Chemical state information
  • Material identification and verification
  • Micro or nano particle analysis
  • Thin film analysis
  • Metal passivation and corrosion
  • Grain boundary segregation in metals
  • Surface segregation
  • Protective coatings and paints
  • Identification of stains and discolorations
  • Polymer surface functionality before and after various treatments
  • Oxide film thickness
  • Surface ultra-thin film thickness
  • Depth profiles of thin film components
  • Defect identification
  • Molecular identification of lubricants, additives, and contaminants
  • Catalysis.

Are the techniques destructive?

SEM, EDS,WDS and EBSD are potentially non destructive techniques, however TEM/STEM requires advanced sample preparation resulting in a significant change to the sample.

Minimum detectable concentration of an element

The minimum detectable concentration of most elements in EDS and WDS varies with the atomic number of the element and the nature of the material it is in.

As each problem is unique our fees will vary depending upon:

  • The analysis techniques required
  • The level of analysis or information required
  • The difficulty of sample preparation
  • Sample type and sample number

So we can't give specific quotes until we have discussed your needs. However an initial discussion with our Laboratory Manager will be free of charge.


For those companies that are sponsoring MSc or PhD students or our Engineering Doctorate researchers, discounts are given on the cost of analysis. For significant analysis requiring several days of instrument time a discount may also be applicable.


An example of a variation in costs would be, the analysis of metallic samples in XPS where a surface composition is only required without any chemical state information can be completed faster and more easily than the analysis of insulators where chemical state information is desired.

Another example with varying costs is analysis in our Auger microscope, the elemental composition of a nanoparticle can be obtained far faster than the composition of a fracture interface fractured in vacuo.

Initial discussion

You are welcome to visit the Laboratory and discuss your requirements in person, or you can send our Unit Manager, David Jones an email.

The laboratory staff will always be clear about our capability, facilities, analysis timescale and the results you can expect from the analysis.

Detailed quote is given

If it is decided to go ahead with an investigation a description of the proposed work and a detailed quote will be sent to you for approval.

Collecting and sending your samples

As the surface of samples is so easily contaminated, please, while wearing gloves, wrap the samples securely in fresh aluminium foil and then place in ziplock sample bags. Samples should be clearly labelled individually with a number or other reference if they are sent in a batch.

Samples can be precision cut, mounted in a range of materials, gold or carbon coated, polished to a sub micron finish suitable for microscopy, EBSD, precision ion polishing and electropolishing.

Our maximum sample size is determined by the size of the vacuum gate valves in our equipment. For EDS and WDS this is 2x2x2 cm. A wide range of sample preparation can be carried out on site to ensure a sample is a suitable size for analysis.

You can bring the samples here to the Laboratory in person, or send them to us by post at:

Microstructural Studies Unit
University of Surrey

The analysis

Typically analysis is completed within one to two weeks from when the sample is received. However if the results are needed urgently then a rush can be achieved and analysis is completed in a few days.

Receiving your data

Once the analysis is complete the data that is collected is considered to be your property and is confidential. A copy will be sent to you and the original files can either be archived for up to two years or deleted at your request. Your samples can be returned should you require them.

Find an expert

If you would like to use our services then please email our unit manager, David Jones, to discuss your problem.

Mark J. Whiting profile image

Dr Mark Whiting

Reader in Metallic Materials, Director of the Centre for Engineering Materials

Man using nano equipment


Research within our Centre addresses ceramics, polymers and metals, as well as composite materials consisting of two or more of these materials, and explores a range of applications where such materials are being used to bring about improved performance or new products.

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Microstructural Studies Unit
University of Surrey