Electron microscopy is crucial for imaging biological ultrastructure at nanometer resolution. However, electron irradiation also causes specimen damage, reflected in structural and chemical changes that can give rise to alternative signals. Here, luminescence induced by electron-beam irradiation is reported across a range of materials widely used in biological electron microscopy. Electron-induced luminescence is spectrally characterized in two epoxy (Epon, Durcupan) and one methacrylate resin (HM20) over a broad electron fluence range, from 10−4 to 103 mC cm−2, both with and without embedded biological samples. Electron-induced luminescence is pervasive in polymer resins, embedded biomaterial, and occurs even in fixed, whole cells in the absence of resin. Across media, similar patterns of intensity rise, spectral red-shifting, and bleaching upon increasing electron fluence are observed. Increased landing energies cause reduced scattering in the specimen shifting the luminescence profiles to higher fluences. Predictable and tunable electron-induced luminescence in natural and synthetic polymer media is advantageous for turning many polymers into luminescent nanostructures or to fluorescently visualize (micro)plastics. Furthermore, these findings provide perspective to direct electron-beam excitation approaches like cathodoluminescence that may be obscured by these nonspecific electron-induced signals.
- correlative light and electron microscopy
- electron-beam induced luminescence
- electron-beam irradiation
- embedding resins
- polymer luminescence
- radiation damage