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

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