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  • Scanning Electron Microscopist Honored
Dec 2004
CAMBRIDGE, England, Dec. 17 -- About 120 scientists and engineers from around the world gathered last week at Cambridge University to celebrate a half-century of achievement in scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and look at future developments in SEM techniques and applications.

The occasion was the centenary of professor Sir Charles Oatley, known as the father of scanning electron microscopy. Between 1951 and 1961, Oatley's team of engineering PhD students built the world's first five SEMs. They developed the first commercial SEM, the StereoScan, in 1965 with the Cambridge Instrument Company (CIC). The meeting was organized by the Cambridge Philosophical Society and jointly sponsored by Carl Zeiss SMT, the successor to CIC.

The prototype of the first Stereoscan, supplied by the Cambridge Instrument Company to the DuPont Co. (Photo: Stewart and Snelling 1965; courtesy University of Cambridge)
Seven of the eleven PhD students involved in the original work, including Dennis McMullen, who built the first SEM (SEM1) in 1951, and A. Stewart, who joined CIC to develop the StereoScan, attended. In his presentation at the meeting, Stewart emphasised the huge success of the versatile SEM. Although just five instruments were made in the first batch, sales rapidly climbed to more than 100 per year in the first three years, and other companies quickly joined in. By 1975, there were over 1,00 SEMs in the US alone, and more than 13,000 were in use worldwide by 1985.

Also discussed at the meeting were the development of the SEM, including the Gemini field-emission SEMs from Carl Zeiss, and new imaging techniques and applications, including environmental- and variable-pressure SEMs, SEMs in biological investigations, integrated circuit testing, the origins of microfabrication and emerging possibilities in nanotechnology.

A replica of SEM1, on loan from the Science Museum, London, and information on its descendants were exhibited at the meeting.

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