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Illinois IGB

Core Facilities

Serial Block Face Scanning Electron Microscope (SBF-SEM)


The SBF-SEM is an automated technique for obtaining serial block face images and 3D data using a SEM. Our Zeiss Sigma VP 3View system is a Gatan 3View SBF microtome housed in a Gemini SEM column. The microtome is equipped with a diamond knife which is mounted inside the chamber of the SEM and shaves of <50nm (15 – 200nm) of the sample in between imaging. Images are collected using a backscattered (BD) electron detector which results in a TEM-like image. The SBF-SEM imaging process is fully automated, allowing for a large volume acquisition without the risk of losing sections.


The instrument has the following features and advantages:

  • This Zeiss Sigma VP 3View system is a Gatan 3View SBF microtome housed in a Gemini SEM column.

  • It is equipped with several detectors for both regular SEM imaging and SBF imaging. It includes an in-lens detector for detecting secondary (SE) and/or backscattered (BSE) electrons as well as a Variable Pressure Secondary Electron (VPSE G3) detector.

  • The SMART SEM software is for imaging in SEM mode and the Gatan Microscopy Suite (also known as Gatan Digital Micrograph) is for SBF imaging and data analysis.

  • <50nm X, Y stage repeatability allows multi-region imaging without losing data due to imprecise stage motion.

  • You can automatically acquire images across multiple regions of the sample utilizing multi-regions of interest (mROIs).

  • Large format image support (up to 32k x 24k) allows very large images to be collected.

  • 15nm Z section thickness without the need to unblur multi-kV images

  • High performance back-scatter detector allows high speed imaging at low kV without giving up image quality


Manufacturer:  Zeiss
Equipment Model: Sigma VP
Location: Room 15, Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology
Contact Person: Kingsley Boateng, 217-333-1642,
Fees & Consumables: See fees page


Sample Images and Videos:

Live Tissue

Liver Tissue





Archea cells

Archaea cells


Plant Leaf

Plant leaf - chloroplast

Segmented Chloroplast

Segmented chloroplast with MIB Software


Egg YokeEgg Yoke Aurora

Xenopus laevis oocytes (frog egg yoke)

Egg Yoke

Segmented frog egg-yoke with MIB Software