Nanoscale and Microscale Research Centre

Under the Microscope

Daffodil_019_YELLOW_no scale

Under the Microscope


Have you ever wondered what pollen looks like? Or the scales on a butterfly’s wing? We're giving the public the chance to find out what objects, that usually go unseen, look like with our new ‘Under the Microscope’ initiative. 

We are asking for people to suggest objects or materials they would like to see in microscopic detail, as well as explain why e.g. does it have a significant meaning to you? Is it relevant to your local area? etc...

One idea will be selected each month to be imaged by our team using state of the art Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) equipment that can create images at the nanoscale. Those images will be sent to the selected entrant and published on this page! To submit your entry please use the link to the right.


What is Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM)?

Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) is a powerful tool used to visualise the micro- and nano-structures of materials. It works by using a beam of negatively charged particles, called electrons, to scan the surface of the material, creating high-resolution images that show details as small as a few nanometres.

To put this into perspective, one nanometre is approximately one million times smaller than the width of a single human hair. 

The Zeiss Crossbeam 550 SEM at the nmRC.

Previous Winning Entries

Spider Web - October 2023

We're diving deep into the world of arachnid artistry as this month's Under the Microscope winning suggestion is...Spider Web! The webs were donated to us by Prof. Sara Goodacre of the SpiderLab here at UoN and imaging showed that the thinnest threads were just 110 nm in diameter. We also found an array of different objects that had been caught in the webbing. SEM imaging was conducted by Nicola Weston on the Thermo Fisher (FEI) Quanta 650. Thanks to Reza for the suggestion! 

Utm Spider Web

Peregrine Falcon Feather - September 2023

This month's Under the Microscope winning suggestion is... A Peregrine Falcon Feather! That's right we are examining a feather of the fastest animal in the world! The feather was donated to us by Michele Pattison, of the University of Nottingham Energy Institute (who also suggested the idea), and it originates from Belper in Derbyshire. SEM imaging was conducted on a Thermo Scientific Phenom XL and the main image was created by capturing 150 individual images and stitching them together to form a mosaic-style image.

UtM Peregrine Falcon Feather

Lizard Scales - August 2023

Delve into the microscopic realm of a crested gecko's toe with our latest Under the Microscope suggestion...Lizard Scales! SEM imaging showed the presence of the scales as well as the microscopic hairs that allow geckos to climb up almost any surface. Imaging was conducted on a JEOL 6060 SEM by Tom Hartman (School of Life Sciences) and Alice Campain. Thanks to Tabitha for the suggestion!

Under the Microscope Lizard Scales

Inked paper - July 2023

Have you ever wondered what inked paper looks like at the microscale? Our latest Under the Microscope winner Andrei had that very same thought and decided to submit the idea to us, and we were excited to image it! We produced two inked paper samples; 1) written letters ("nmRC") using a ballpoint pen, and 2) a printed University of Nottingham castle logo. Both samples were then imaged using Scanning Electron Microscopy to observe any differences. In both high magnification images the paper fibres can be observed, but the ink produced by the printer appears far more globular than that of the pen which appears more grainy, and sand-like! Imaging was conducted using a JEOL JCM-7000 Neoscope SEM operated by Dr Luke Norman (Knowledge Exchange Fellow).


Pine Pollen - June 2023

It's hayfever season and there is lots of pollen about, but have you ever wondered what pollen looks like at the microscale? Clare Templey suggested for us to image pine pollen using electron microscopy and we thought it was a great idea! The pollen was collected from some pine trees around University Park campus and then analysed using the JEOL JCM-7000 Neoscope Scanning Electron Microscope by Dr Luke Norman. If you're inspired by this suggestion and would like to nominate something for us to image, let us know!

UtM Pine pollen

A Shortbread Biscuit - May 2023

Calling all baking enthusiasts and curious foodies! Our May 2023 Under the Microscope winning entry is... A Shortbread Biscuit submitted by Taranvir Bedi. Imaging was conducted using a Thermo Fisher (FEI) Quanta600 Scanning Electron Microscope by Lorelei Robertson. Various shortbread crumbs were analysed as well as some sugar granules that were on top. Prepare to be amazed as we unveil the intricate microstructure of everyone's favourite baked treats,and don't forget to suggest your ideas to be in with a chance to be chosen next month! 


A Porcupine Qull - April 2023

The winning entry for April 2023 was a porcupine quill which was suggested by Susannah Goh who picked this idea because "Porcupines are always rather fun and interesting in all of their aspects". Imaging of the tip, exterior and cross-section was conducted by Lorelei Robertson on the JEOL IT-200 SEM. Check out the images below, and don't forget to suggest your ideas to be in with a chance to be chosen next month! 

Under the Microscope April_Porcupine Quill

Budgie Feather - March 2023

During a visit by NottsTV, their producer bought in a feather from her pet budgie called Dudley to image by SEM. The feather was first coated in gold to make it conductive and then was imaged by Lorelei Robertson on the JEOL IT-200 SEM. Results below...

NottsTV Budgie Feather

Example Materials Imaged

Daffodil Pollen

Daffodil pollen was chosen to celebrate St David's Day in Wales, and was imaged by Dr Beth Steer. The images revealed a honeycomb outer structure to the pollen!

Daffodil Infographic (1)

Ice Cream

The microstructure of ice cream was imaged by Dr Chris Parmenter, and identified three main components which were: ice crystals, air bubbles, and fat droplets. 

Ice cream infographic (1)



Nanoscale and Microscale Research Centre

Cripps South building
University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

telephone: +44 (0) 115 748 6340
email: nmrcenquiries@nottingham.ac.uk