Photoelectron Emission Microscopy

Advancements in Photoelectron Emission Microscopy

Photoelectron Emission Microscopy (PEEM) stands at the forefront of modern surface science, providing unprecedented insights into the electronic and chemical properties of materials at the nanoscale. This powerful technique has become an indispensable tool for researchers in physics, chemistry, and materials science, allowing them to investigate surface structures, electronic states, and dynamic processes with remarkable precision. In this article by Academic Block, we delve into the principles, instrumentation, applications, and advancements of Photoelectron Emission Microscopy.

Historical Background:

The roots of PEEM can be traced back to the early 20th century when scientists began unraveling the mysteries of the photoelectric effect. Albert Einstein’s groundbreaking work on the photoelectric effect in 1905 laid the foundation for understanding the emission of electrons from a material when exposed to light. Over the years, advancements in technology and theoretical understanding paved the way for the development of sophisticated tools like PEEM.

Basic Principles of PEEM:

1. Photoelectric Effect: PEEM relies on the photoelectric effect, a phenomenon where light incident on a material liberates electrons. The energy of these emitted electrons is directly proportional to the energy of the incident photons. In PEEM, high-energy photons, often from synchrotron radiation sources, are used to excite electrons from the sample surface.

2. Electron Optics: Electron optics play a crucial role in PEEM, enabling the formation of high-resolution images. The emitted photoelectrons are accelerated and focused using electrostatic lenses and magnetic fields, providing spatial information with nanometer-scale resolution. This allows researchers to visualize surface features and analyze electronic states with exceptional detail.


1. Light Sources: Synchrotron radiation sources, with their intense and tunable photon beams, are commonly used in PEEM. These sources provide a wide range of photon energies, allowing researchers to tailor their experiments to specific materials and electronic states. Additionally, laser-based sources can be employed for certain applications.

2. Electron Optics: PEEM instruments typically include sophisticated electron optics systems. Magnetic and electrostatic lenses are utilized to focus and steer the emitted electrons, forming high-resolution images. These optics also allow researchers to control the energy and polarization of the incident light.

3. Sample Stage: The sample stage in a PEEM setup is crucial for achieving precise control over the position and orientation of the sample. It must be stable and capable of fine adjustments to ensure accurate imaging and spectroscopic measurements. Some advanced PEEM setups also incorporate sample heating or cooling capabilities.

Imaging Modes:

PEEM offers various imaging modes that cater to different research needs:

1. Morphological Imaging: PEEM can provide high-resolution morphological images of the sample surface, revealing details such as grain boundaries, defects, and surface reconstructions. This mode is invaluable for studying the topography of materials at the nanoscale.

2. Spectromicroscopy: PEEM can perform spectromicroscopy by analyzing the energy distribution of emitted photoelectrons. This mode allows researchers to map the chemical composition and electronic structure of a sample, providing insights into band structure, chemical bonding, and electronic states.

3. Time-Resolved Imaging: Time-resolved PEEM captures dynamic processes at the nanoscale by using pulsed light sources. This capability enables the study of ultrafast phenomena, such as electron dynamics and charge carrier transport, providing a deeper understanding of material behavior under dynamic conditions.

Applications of PEEM:

1. Surface Science: PEEM has become a cornerstone in surface science, enabling researchers to investigate surface properties and phenomena with exceptional detail. It has been employed in studies related to catalysis, adhesion, and the growth of thin films, among others.

2. Nanomaterials Research: In the realm of nanomaterials, PEEM is instrumental in characterizing nanoparticles, nanowires, and other nanostructures. Researchers can explore the electronic structure and morphology of these materials, contributing to the development of advanced nanotechnologies.

3. Semiconductor Physics: In semiconductor research, PEEM aids in understanding the electronic properties of semiconductors, including band bending, surface states, and charge carrier dynamics. This knowledge is crucial for optimizing semiconductor devices such as transistors and solar cells.

4. Magnetic Materials: PEEM has proven invaluable in the study of magnetic materials, providing insights into magnetic domain structures and magnetization dynamics. This has implications for the development of magnetic storage devices and spintronic applications.

Mathematical equations behind the Photoelectron Emission Microscopy

The mathematical description of the Photoelectron Emission Microscopy (PEEM) process involves principles from quantum mechanics and the photoelectric effect. While the detailed equations can become complex, a simplified overview is provided here.

  1. The Photoelectric Effect: The photoelectric effect is a crucial concept underlying PEEM. It is described by the equation:

    Ekin = h ν − ϕ ;


    • Ekin is the kinetic energy of the emitted photoelectron,

    • h is Planck’s constant,

    • ν is the frequency of the incident light, and

    • ϕ is the work function of the material (the energy required to remove an electron from the material).

  2. Electron Energy Analyzer: In PEEM, an electron energy analyzer is used to determine the kinetic energy of the emitted photoelectrons. The electron energy analyzer operates based on the conservation of energy:

    Ekin = e U ;


    • e is the elementary charge, and

    • U is the electric potential applied in the electron energy analyzer.

  3. Spatial Resolution: The spatial resolution of PEEM depends on the size of the electron beam spot. Smaller spots lead to higher spatial resolution. The diffraction-limited spot size dd can be described by the equation:

    d = (0.61 λ) / NA ;


    • λ is the wavelength of the incident light, and

    • NA is the numerical aperture of the optics.

  4. Image Formation: The final image in PEEM is formed by raster scanning the sample with the focused photon beam. The intensity of the emitted photoelectrons is recorded for each position, creating a two-dimensional image. The overall image formation involves various factors, including the intensity of the incident light, the efficiency of the photoelectron collection, and the performance of the electron optics.

It’s important to note that these equations provide a simplified overview, and the actual implementation of PEEM involves more sophisticated quantum mechanical descriptions, matrix elements, and considerations of the specific experimental setup. Researchers and scientists typically use advanced theoretical and computational methods to model and interpret the results obtained from PEEM experiments.

Challenges and Future Directions:

Despite its successes, PEEM faces challenges such as limitations in spatial and temporal resolution, sample damage during measurements, and the need for synchrotron facilities. Researchers are actively working to address these challenges and push the boundaries of PEEM capabilities.

1. Improving Spatial Resolution: Advancements in electron optics and detector technologies are essential for enhancing the spatial resolution of PEEM. This will enable researchers to explore materials at an even finer scale, opening new avenues for discoveries in nanoscience.

2. Pushing Temporal Limits: The development of attosecond laser sources and ultrafast electron sources holds promise for achieving femtosecond and even attosecond temporal resolution in PEEM. This would enable the investigation of ultrafast processes at the atomic and molecular level.

3. Integration with Other Techniques: Combining PEEM with complementary techniques such as X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) and scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) can provide a more comprehensive understanding of materials. Integrated approaches offer a synergistic advantage in elucidating complex material properties.

4. In-situ and Operando Studies: The ability to perform in-situ and operando studies using PEEM is crucial for observing dynamic processes under realistic conditions. This involves developing sample environments that mimic the actual operating conditions of materials in devices or reactions.

Final Words

Photoelectron Emission Microscopy has evolved into a powerful and versatile tool for probing the nanoscale world of materials. Its ability to provide high-resolution images, detailed spectroscopic information, and insights into dynamic processes has positioned PEEM at the forefront of cutting-edge research in physics, chemistry, and materials science. In this article by Academic Block we have seen that, as the technology continues to advance, and researchers address current challenges, PEEM is poised to play an even more pivotal role in unraveling the complexities of the nanoscale universe. Please provide your comments below, so that we can enhance this article further. Thanks for reading!

Photoelectron Emission Microscopy

Hardware and software required for Photoelectron Emission Microscopy


  1. Light Source: Synchrotron radiation sources (commonly used due to their high intensity and tunable energy) and Lasers (for some specific types of PEEM setups).
  2. Electron Energy Analyzer: This component analyzes the kinetic energy of the emitted photoelectrons and is crucial for obtaining detailed information about the material’s electronic structure.
  3. Sample Stage: Precision stages for sample positioning and manipulation, allowing controlled and accurate scanning.
  4. Electron Optics: Magnetic or electrostatic lenses to focus and direct the emitted photoelectrons towards the detector.
  5. Detector System: High-performance detectors capable of capturing and analyzing photoelectron signals. And imaging detectors to record the spatial distribution of photoelectrons.
  6. Vacuum System: PEEM requires a high vacuum environment to prevent electron scattering and to maintain the stability of the system.
  7. Data Acquisition System: Analog-to-digital converters to convert the analog signals from detectors into digital data.
  8. Control Electronics: Electronics for controlling and adjusting various components of the PEEM system.


  1. Control Software: Software to control the overall operation of the PEEM system, including the light source, sample stage, electron optics, and detectors.
  2. Data Acquisition and Analysis Software: Specialized software for acquiring, processing, and analyzing data obtained during PEEM experiments.
  3. Image Processing Software: Software for processing and enhancing the images generated by the PEEM system.
  4. Simulation and Modeling Software: Computational tools for simulating and modeling the PEEM process, assisting in the interpretation of experimental results.
  5. Instrumentation Control Software: Software for controlling individual components of the PEEM system, ensuring coordinated and synchronized operation.
  6. Data Visualization Software: Tools for visualizing and interpreting complex data sets obtained from PEEM experiments.
  7. Calibration Software: Software for calibrating and aligning various components of the PEEM system to ensure accuracy in measurements.
  8. Database Management Software: Systems for storing and managing large datasets generated during PEEM experiments.

Facts on Photoelectron Emission Microscopy

Principle of Operation: PEEM is based on the photoelectric effect, where photons striking a material surface cause the emission of electrons. The emitted photoelectrons are then used to create high-resolution images of the sample.

High Spatial Resolution: PEEM can achieve high spatial resolutions, typically in the range of tens of nanometers. This allows researchers to investigate surface structures and features at the nanoscale level.

Energy-Resolved Imaging: One of the strengths of PEEM is its ability to provide energy-resolved images. By analyzing the kinetic energy of emitted electrons, researchers can gain information about the electronic structure of the material.

Tunability with Synchrotron Radiation: Many PEEM systems use synchrotron radiation as the light source. The tunability of synchrotron beams allows researchers to select specific photon energies, enabling detailed studies of different electronic states.

Chemical Sensitivity: PEEM can be chemically sensitive, providing information about the chemical composition of the surface. This is particularly useful in studies of heterogeneous materials and interfaces.

Magnetic Contrast: Some PEEM techniques, such as X-ray Magnetic Circular Dichroism PEEM (XMCD-PEEM), can provide magnetic contrast in addition to topographical and chemical information. This is valuable for investigating magnetic properties at the nanoscale.

Real-Time Imaging: PEEM can capture images in real-time, allowing researchers to observe dynamic processes, such as surface reactions, adsorption, and desorption events.

Versatility in Sample Types: PEEM can be applied to a wide range of sample types, including metals, semiconductors, insulators, and even biological samples. This versatility makes it a valuable tool in various scientific disciplines.

Quantitative Analysis: PEEM data can be analyzed quantitatively to extract information about electronic band structures, work functions, and other material parameters.

Evolution of Techniques: Over time, various PEEM techniques have been developed, such as X-ray PEEM (XPEEM), Low Energy Electron Microscopy (LEEM), and Spin-Polarized PEEM (SPEEM), each with its own strengths and applications.

Academic References on Photoelectron Emission Microscopy

Suga, S., Sekiyama, A., & Tusche, C. (2021). Photoelectron spectroscopy. Springer International Publishing.

Mundschau, M. (1991). Emission microscopy and surface science. Ultramicroscopy, 36(1-3), 29-51.

Engel, W., Kordesch, M. E., Rotermund, H. H., Kubala, S., & Von Oertzen, A. (1991). A UHV-compatible photoelectron emission microscope for applications in surface science. Ultramicroscopy, 36(1-3), 148-153.

Hibino, H., Kageshima, H., Kotsugi, M., Maeda, F., Guo, F. Z., & Watanabe, Y. (2009). Dependence of electronic properties of epitaxial few-layer graphene on the number of layers investigated by photoelectron emission microscopy. Physical Review B, 79(12), 125437.

Rempfer, G. F., & Griffith, O. H. (1992). Emission microscopy and related techniques: resolution in photoelectron microscopy, low energy electron microscopy and mirror electron microscopy. Ultramicroscopy, 47(1-3), 35-54.

Günther, S., Kolmakov, A., Kovac, J., & Kiskinova, M. (1998). Artefact formation in scanning photoelectron emission microscopy. Ultramicroscopy, 75(1), 35-51.

Wakita, T., Taniuchi, T., Ono, K., Suzuki, M., Kawamura, N., Takagaki, M., … & Kobayashi, K. (2006). Hard X-ray photoelectron emission microscopy as tool for studying buried layers. Japanese journal of applied physics, 45(3R), 1886.

Bethge, H., & Klaua, M. (1983). Photo-electron emission microscopy of work function changes. Ultramicroscopy, 11(2-3), 207-214.

Turner, D. W., Plummer, I. R., & Porter, H. Q. (1984). Photoelectron emission: images and spectra. Journal of Microscopy, 136(2), 259-277.

Günther, S., Kaulich, B., Gregoratti, L., & Kiskinova, M. (2002). Photoelectron microscopy and applications in surface and materials science. Progress in surface science, 70(4-8), 187-260.

Griffith, O. H., & Engel, W. (1991). Historical perspective and current trends in emission microscopy, mirror electron microscopy and low-energy electron microscopy: an introduction to the proceedings of the second international symposium and workshop on emission microscopy and related techniques. Ultramicroscopy, 36(1-3), 1-28.

Möllenstedt, G., & Lenz, F. (1963). Electron emission microscopy. In Advances in Electronics and Electron Physics (Vol. 18, pp. 251-329). Academic Press.

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