- Disadvantages of electron microscopes
The Disadvantages of Electron Microscopes
Despite being such useful instruments, there are some disadvantages
of electron microscopes. Although these units can provide incredible
detail, the disadvantages may outweigh the advantages for some. In order
for a customer to decide if an electron microscope is the right choice,
they need to consider all the pros and cons.
Electron Microscopes produce a focused beam of highly energetic
electrons to examine objects in great detail. They provide the user with
a huge amount of information about the specimen's shape, atomic
structure, composition, and surface features. No doubt they're amazing
machines, but one should still consider:
- Price - One of the biggest disadvantages of electron
microscopes is the price tag. These units are by no means cheap. The
initial purchase price is high, and it costs a good chunk of change to
maintain it. Without maintenance put into the budget, the electron
microscope can end up as an expensive dust collector.
- Power source - Another downside is the power source.
The electron microscope is dynamic, which means that the voltage needs
to be highly stable. Each electromagnetic coil or lens needs a constant
and steady current. This is something that needs to be monitored and
maintained throughout the life of the machine.
- System maintenance - The cooling system needs constant
circulation pumping through the unit. The vacuum setup also requires
consistent pressure and continuous pumping to keep the entire system
primed. Maintaining these systems requires additional time, money, and
- Sensitivity - An electron microscope is a very
sensitive piece of equipment, so vibrations and external magnetic fields
can be very damaging to it. It needs to be housed in a specialized area
with trained technicians on staff to maintain it. These electron
microscope disadvantages can make the unit impractical to the
- Sample preparation - An electron microscope
requires that all samples be viewed in a vacuum. Otherwise, the
molecules that occur naturally in the air would scatter and distort the
electrons. Preparing these samples is another disadvantage. It can be a
time-consuming, labor-intensive process to prepare samples, a technique
that requires a high level of skill. Some simple hydrated samples can be
scanned with an environmental scanning electron microscope, but this
technique is far from the norm.
- Artifacts and errors - The electron microscope is a
man-made instrument, and therefore prone to errors. Despite the best of
care, samples are changed throughout the preparation process. Materials
may be damaged, and molecular dimensions and rearrangement can occur.
These human errors may result in artifacts, structural details caused by
preparing the specimen but aren't part of the specimen themselves. The problem of artifacts can be seen in many different ways. The
organelles may be distorted or disorganized, the membrane continuity may
be altered, or the empty space in the cytoplasm may be unnaturally
changed. All of these potential issues can change the readings.
- Complex Operation and Training Requirements:
Operating an electron microscope requires specialized training due to its
complexity. The precision needed in sample preparation, alignment of the
electron beam, and interpretation of results demands a high level of expertise.
- Physical and Space Requirements: The size and
sensitivity of electron microscopes necessitate dedicated spaces, often with
special environmental controls to mitigate interference from vibrations,
electromagnetic fields, and other factors. This can add to the complexity and
cost of housing such equipment
- Environmental Considerations: The operation of
electron microscopes has environmental implications, including the energy
required to maintain controlled environments and the potential impact of
chemicals used in sample preparation
- Technical Limitations: Despite their high resolution,
electron microscopes have limitations in viewing molecular structures directly.
They are also restricted by the need for a vacuum, limiting the types of
samples that can be imaged. The depth of field and field of view are limited,
affecting how much of a sample can be in focus at a given time
Overcoming Disadvantages of Electron Microscopes
Electron microscope disadvantages can be overcome. Skilled microscopy
scientists can learn to distinguish between artifacts from preparation
and the true sample structure. One does this by comparing similar
samples prepared in the same or alternative way. It does take time and
practice to perfect this particular talent.
When run correctly, the electron microscope can be an amazing tool in
the laboratory. The disadvantages of electron microscopes are primarily
related to maintenance and sample preparation. Customers need to plan
their budget to cover the cost of the unit, the maintenance, and the
tools for proper sample preparation. Without these pieces in place, the
readings of the unit may not be accurate!
Other types of microscopes to know about:
Depending on your desired application, these types of microscopes may also be appropriate for your lab.
Laser Scanning Microscopes (CLSM) (typically biological, but also other
Microscopes (microbiology applications)
Force Microscopes (AFM) (various applications)
Tunneling Microscopes (STM) (atomic level)
Microscopes (contrast imaging at nanoscale)