School of GeoSciences

Electron Probe Microanalysis (EPMA) Facility

The Electron Probe Microanalysis Facility features a world-class Cameca SX100 instrument and is located in the Grant Institute, School of GeoSciences, at the University of Edinburgh.



The Facility supports a wide range of academic and commercial research. It is available to researchers and students from the School of Geosciences, from universities and commercial organisations within and beyond the UK. Enquiries from those interested in obtaining data are welcome.

The Facility offers bespoke analytical set-ups for almost any element combination in solids such as minerals, glasses, metals and alloys, ceramics and biominerals.

The Facility has developed specialist applications for specific researchers and research communities. Since the 1990s it has served the UK-based and international earth and environmental research communities via the Tephra Analysis Unit

EPMA COVID-19 UPDATE: The facility will be available as soon as safely possible. For any clients who are unable to travel in person to Edinburgh, the Facility Manager can analyse samples, provided with suitable detailed instructions from the client. Please contact  Dr Chris Hayward to discuss specific work.


Instrument Capabilities

The electron probe microanalyser is capable of fully quantitative analysis of almost every element between boron and uranium, with a spatial resolution as high as 1 micron and excellent analytical precision. These analytical capabilities, combined with data processing software, form a very powerful and cost-effective tool for academic and industrial research.

The technique of EPMA uses a focussed incident electron beam to generate X-rays that identify the elements and their concentrations within samples. Instrument calibration is carried out by analysing reference materials with known compositions. Routine detection limits are typically 60 – 600 ppm, depending on the element and host material. The SX100 is designed for automation and when samples permit, can be set up for automated analyses overnight and during weekends, maximising data collection and cost-effectiveness.

The configuration of Edinburgh’s electron probe microanalyser enables high quality analysis of a very wide range of materials, including minerals, metals and alloys, glasses, ceramics and bone. The SX100 is therefore exceptionally versatile and has capabilities in fields such as earth and environmental sciences, materials sciences, engineering, biological and medical sciences, archaeology, forensics, manufacturing, process and quality control. In addition to quantitative analysis of specific locations on samples, the SX100 can produce qualitative and quantitative element distribution maps with resolutions as high as 1 micron, line profiles and analyses of thin layers.

The Facility is actively engaged in technique development to improve current methods and extend the range of applications of EPMA. Developments have lead to improved spatial resolutions for analysis of glassy materials with beam diameters of 3 and 5 microns without beam-induced chemical modification (Hayward, 2012). This permits analysis of highly vesicular and/or fine-grained, distal tephras and small melt inclusions. Other developments have improved analysis of elements such as carbon, nitrogen and oxygen.


Working at the Facility

Clients may attend the Facility in person or (except students) may send samples with instructions for the Facility Manager to carry out the analyses.

For those attending the Facility in person, training in the operation of the SX100 is provided for clients with all levels of experience and expertise. Most clients quickly gain familiarity with the main operations. Support is provided throughout the working day and emergency contact is available out of hours in case of serious problems. Internet access is available to clients throughout their stay.

There are excellent transport links between the Facility, Waverley train station and Edinburgh airport, as well as to the city centre.

A parking permit for one vehicle at the location of the Facility is available to clients, subject to space being available in the car park.

A range of accommodation is available within 1-2 km of the Facility. Regular buses run from the airport and city centre to locations close to the Facility.

The campus has a variety of eateries, and there are supermarkets at Cameron Toll shopping centre, 0.5 km away from the Facility. A small kitchen is available adjacent to the EPMA instrument, with fridges, microwave and kettle.

Contact Details

Dr Christopher Hayward

Contact details



Grant Institute,
James Hutton Road
School of GeoSciences,
University of Edinburgh,
Kings Buildings
West Mains Road, Edinburgh. EH9 3FE