Optical microscopy stands out as a versatile and indispensable tool, offering several advantages over electron-beam techniques. Notably, optical microscopy boasts versatility in the examination, simplicity in sample preparation, operates without a vacuum requirement, and avoids specimen charging. Recent advances, particularly in confocal scanning optical microscopy and computer-based image analysis systems, further enhance these advantages.
A scanning optical microscope employs laser illumination, detects transmitted or reflected light with a photodetector, and displays the video image on a cathode-ray tube (CRT). The confocal configuration improves resolution and depth of field by illuminating and collecting light from a single point (column) at a time, enhancing contrast and depth resolution. In the scanning optical microscope, either the beam or the sample undergoes scanning, allowing for the display of a raster image on a CRT and storage in a computer for subsequent image processing.
Scanning optical microscopy finds crucial applications in microcharacterization, especially in analyzing defects in semiconductors and electronic devices. Techniques like optical beam-induced current (OBIC) and scanning photoluminescence, analogous to electron beam-induced current (EBIC) and cathodoluminescence (CL) in the scanning electron microscope (SEM), are employed. The key advantages of these scanning optical microscopic methods over their electron-beam counterparts include the absence of a vacuum requirement and the elimination of specimen charging issues.