Shakespeare Exposed! SEM Imaging of Old Books

Surface Science Western (SSW) routinely analyzes interesting and challenging samples. Sometimes, a sample is too large to fit into an instrument or is ‘one of a kind’, meaning that sectioning/cutting is not a viable option. Our “Large Chamber” Variable Pressure Scanning Electron Microscope (VP-SEM) accommodates sample sizes not possible in traditional SEM instruments. Also, Variable Pressure mode allows imaging of non-conductive samples and avoids the need for conductive coatings (e.g., gold, chromium, iridium, carbon, etc.).

SSW Researchers wanted to test some novel samples inside the Large Chamber VP-SEM, so they imaged a whole book – a 1909 copy of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure. SSW researchers hypothesized that they could use electrons to actually read the book within the SEM.

When the Shakespearean book was opened, it measured 7×9 inches in size, which is much larger than standard SEM samples (ranging mm to cm).

Super special mounting procedures were used (aluminum foil) to hold the large book to the SEM stage.

The above image is a peak inside the SEM chamber using an in-chamber infrared camera.

The optical microscope image below shows the text that was imaged inside the SEM:

The text was imaged using a specialized detector called a UVD, which works based on emitted photons from gas amplification. This detector worked great, and as you can see in the images below, letters popped out nicely due to the differences between the ink and the paper. The book could actually be read (at a very fine scale), and individual paper fibers could be imaged!

From big to super small, mass produced to “one of a kind”, SSW researchers are sample experts. If you have a special sample that you would like imaged, please let us know!

“Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.”

William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure

Contact Info

 Surface Science Western
       999 Collip Circle (LL31)
       London, Ontario, N6G 0J3
  +1 (519) 661-2173