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Studying the Microstructure of Natural Polymers in Fine Detail

Cryogenic Broad-Ion Beam Milling Combined with Scanning Electron Microscopy (Cryo-BIB-SEM)

The potential of cryogenic broad ion beam milling used in combination with scanning electron microscopy (cryo-BIB-SEM) for imaging and analyzing the microstructure of cryogenically stabilized soft polymers is assessed in this report. Results from the examination of delicate, natural polymers, such as tomato skin and wood, with cryo-BIB-SEM are shown. The polymer surface morphology and various microstructural features were analyzed.

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Microstructure Characterization of Soft Polymers with Cryo-BIB-SEM

The microstructure of polymers controls their chemical reactivity as well as their mechanical and transport properties. However, quantitative characterization of the microstructure of soft polymers is not often possible or practical with the few analytical methods available to study it at the sub-micrometer scale. Freeze-fracturing is one such method, but often the surfaces of samples prepared with the process are too rough, leaving only a very small area appropriate for quantitative SEM investigation.

The results demonstrate that cryo-BIB-SEM enables microstructure characterization of soft polymers with high resolution over large planar areas of damage-free sample cross sections. Only minor artifacts from the cryo-BIB-SEM sample preparation process were seen at the scale of observation, none of which appear to be a consequence of freezing.

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