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The scanning electron microscope (SEM) is one of the most versatile instruments for investigating the microscopic features of most solid materials. The SEM provides the user with an unparalleled ability to observe and quantify the surface of a sample. This article discusses the development of SEM technology and operating principles of basic systems of SEM. The basic systems covered include the electron optical column, signal detection and display equipment, and the vacuum system. The processes involved in the preparation of samples for observation using an SEM are described, and the application of SEM in fractography is discussed. The article covers the failure mechanisms of ductile failure, brittle failure, mixed-mode failure, and fatigue failure. Lastly, image dependence on microscope type and operating parameters is also discussed.

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