Carnegie Mellon University
Materials Characterization Facility

The Materials Characterization Facility is open to all research groups within the university for structural and microstructural characterization using electron, x-ray, and scanning probe methods. The facility staff provide assistance and training in all of these techniques to enable research groups to achieve their research objectives. Extensive specimen preparation facilities are also housed within the MCF Characterization Suite. Additionally, the suite houses a significant fraction of the departmental computational facilities. Finally, at the core of the suite is the department’s digital classroom; not only can students control most instruments in the suite from the classroom computers, but distance learning enables MSE students to participate in courses jointly taught with other universities.

Any published research using MCF instrumentation should include the following acknowledgement statement: “The authors acknowledge use of the Materials Characterization Facility at Carnegie Mellon University supported by grant MCF-677785.”

CMU MCF Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

The Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) MCF facility is a multiuser materials characterization facility for the structural and chemical characterization of materials using methods including electron microscopy, scanning probe microscopy and x-ray diffraction.

MCF is located on the 1st floor of the Roberts Engineering Hall on Carnegie Mellon University campus, Pittsburgh, PA, USA. You can access a CMU campus map at this link and look for Building #23 for the location of Roberts Engineering Hall on CMU campus.

This website features specific information on individual instruments. In general, MCF houses three transmission electron microscopes, four field emission scanning electron microscopes, two focused ion beam systems, multiple x-ray diffractometers and multiple scanning probe microscopes. MCF also houses many instruments for the preparation of specimens for characterization, including saws, polishing wheels, ion polishing systems, plasma cleaning devices, sputter coaters, etc.

We recommend the following course of action:

1. First, please determine exactly the nature of the analysis you require and anticipate the necessary steps for preparing your specific samples for that analysis.

2. When trying to determine what analysis you want to pursue, consider the necessary resolution, sensitivity, spatial area, the need for specific location analysis, etc. Access the  scientific literature for example articles that perform the same sort of analysis as what you desire, and use that available information to develop an initial plan.

3. Based on these considerations, attempt to anticipate what specific instrument you will want to use.

4. Contact Betsy Clarke ( for x-ray diffractometers and scanning probe microscopes and for transmission electron microscopes, scanning electron microscopes and focused ion beams.

5. When you email, include your answers to 1-3 from above. Also mention any prior experience you may have had. If you have no prior experience, try to sit behind a colleague and watch them use the instrument for a session or two.

6. MCF staff will arrange day/times to begin training. Instrument handbooks are available on each Web page. Please read the instrument handbook before you come to training. Bring a printed copy with you to make notes on during your training sessions.

7. Depending on the instrument, proficiency could be attained within 1-5 training sessions. Proficiency is determined by MCF staff.  Upon this determination, the user is “certified” to use the instrument on their own during normal business hours (8 am–5 pm; Monday–Friday). After-hours facility and instrument access is allowed on individual case-by-case basis.

Instrument rates are provided at the following links:

Please note that the amount of time required for instrument training and usage varies significantly from instrument to instrument and strongly depends on the nature of your research/analysis objectives.


Yes. We have several users from other universities and local industry. Contact MCF staff by email for more details.

When you have your research samples ready to be examined, the staff can arrange a time to train you. As a rule, users are trained on the instruments while examining their own research samples. During the training session you will learn some operating tips specific to your samples and will usually get some initial results for your research project.

There are no required courses for scanning probe microscopes or x-ray diffractometer operation. Contact MCF staff directly to inquire regarding instrument access and training.

All SEM users are required to enroll and pass the MSE graduate course 27-740 “Practical Methods in Scanning Electron Microscopy” offered each Fall and Spring semester. This 6 unit course covers the physical principles underlying SEM, as well as practical approaches and hands-on operation labs.  The course also covers sample preparation strategies and various imaging techniques available in SEM.  Students are also introduced to energy dispersive spectroscopy (EDS), electron backscatter diffraction (EBSD) and ion beam methods.  At the conclusion of this course, any student pursuing a research project can complete a certification assessment in order to gain independent access and permission to operate the entry-level SEM.  Students doing research can also then pursue individual training with MCF staff in order to gain access and certification for the other more advanced SEM/FIBs at MCF, depending on their research needs and objectives.

All TEM users are required to enroll and pass the MSE graduate course 27-741 “Practical Methods in Transmission Electron Microscopy” offered each Spring semester. Students enrolled in this course learn electron scattering theory, all practical approaches for imaging and spectroscopic analysis, while also covering the underlying physics, and literature reviews along with in-class discussions on TEM sample preparation and analysis strategies specific to each enrolled student’s research project.  The course also features intensive hands-on labs for learning all necessary steps for standard TEM operation. We require students to pass this course in order to be a certified, independent user of the JEOL 2000EX TEM, the “entry-level” TEM at MCF.  At the conclusion of this course, any student can then independently operate the JEOL 2000EX as well as pursue individual training with MCF staff in order to gain access and certification for the other TEMs at MCF (Tecnai F20 and Titan 80-300), depending on their research needs and objectives.

Students interested in the basic theory underlying both SEM and TEM techniques as well as in simulation techniques for images and diffraction patterns can sign up for the graduate level course 27-763 "Foundations of Electron Microscopy" which is offered in the Spring in alternating years and taught by Prof. Marc De Graef. This course will provide students with the skills needed to simulate electron scattering events and predict the images and diffraction patterns observed with a range of electron microscopy modalities.