Training FAQs

These have been written with specific application to SEM. Many principles also apply to XRD.

XPS, TA, and XRF are only operated by MARL staff.

Can I be trained to use the equipment on my own?
Generally, yes. You should read the rest of the page to determine if training is worthwhile. MARL regularly trains new users charging assistance rates for the staff time required for training.

Should I consider being trained?
That depends. How many samples will you have and how difficult will they be to image, e.g., what particle size? If you only have a few samples and they are difficult, it will take you longer to develop the necessary level of skill. It may be quite a while before you can collect satisfactory images. You might be time and money ahead to ask MARL staff to examine the samples for you. You would get good images immediately and probably faster and with less cost than if you trained to do the work yourself. We do expect you to sit in on the sessions so that you are involved with the process.

If you anticipate many samples over an extended period of time, training is probably worthwhile. You know better than we do the type of information that you want. You would no longer be dependent on MARL staff for scheduling your sessions. You would also be learning a new skill.

If cost is the main concern, consider how long it will take you to become half as good and fast as MARL staff. It is true that a trained user only pays $58/hr for SEM time whereas those who require staff help pay $120/hr. However, staff operates the SEM better and faster than new users. Until you are consistently working at 48% the level of staff (quality and speed), you are paying more for the same results. There is also the cost of training to recover.

How do I schedule training?
First, fill out a user profile on our sample submission page to provide your basic information. A valid account number will be needed at that time. Also check with your PI or department to see who should receive copies of the invoice.

Next, submit some samples for analysis. Under "Additional Information" indicate that you would like to receive training. Describe your samples in some detail so we can help tailor the training process.

We do not offer scheduled classes but train users on an individualized basis and schedule. You can check the instrument schedules for open times.

For training on the various MARL instruments, contact:
Warren Straszheim (, 23 Town Engineering, SEM and EDS
Scott Schlorholtz ( 62 Town Engineering, XRD
Dapeng Jing (, 46 Town Engineering, SEM and EDS

How long does training require?
The time required for training depends on your requirements. Low magnification skills are easy to develop. Higher magnification, multiple detectors, and/or x-ray analysis require additional time to cover. You may be ready to image samples on your own after just a couple of hours. EDS typically requires more time to become proficient than the SEM training.

You should normally plan on two sessions of a couple of two hours each for training. The first session walks the new user through the steps including acquiring actual images. The second session is a review to make sure they remember the instructions from the first session. We also cover the remaining features of the microscope, and we finish working out the details and parameters for examining your samples. We like to separate those sessions by at least one day, but have scheduled sessions for successive days.

In some cases of new users with experience on another SEM, we have been able to combine both sessions into a single session. However, each SEM is different and we have only encountered one user who had previously operated the exact same model as ours. The steps and principles are basically the same, but the details and controls are very different. Also, while our instruction does not cover the science behind microscopy, it does cover a number of principles that enable users to get better results. The questions we ask allow us to quickly determine whether we need to cover those points with new users or not.

Can I combine training with others in my group in order to split the cost?
Maybe. Some parts of training can be combined. However, each user needs to demonstrate proficiency through hands-on use of the equipment. We have worked to combine training for two at a time. Groups of three might work, but four is probably too large.

I don't have samples yet. May I take training anyway?
It would be good to have actual samples to make sure that our equipment can provide the characterization that you want. Otherwise, you could complete training and realize that SEM is not the right technique for getting the information you desire.

Likewise, we need to know something about your samples to determine if they are ready for the SEM. It may be that substantial preparation is needed before the sample can be examined. Instrument time should not be scheduled until the samples will definitely be ready.

Many skills are independent of the samples, but we want to help you develop skills and protocols related to your specific samples.

Users are encouraged to wait on training until they are ready to use SEM routinely. They can forget much between training and application. The training sessions also serve to get actual results. It would be good to have enough samples for two or more sessions. Otherwise, the second session gets postponed for many days and users forget their skills or fail to fully develop them.

Are there any other scheduling issues I should know about?
Training needs to be worked in around other appointments. The equipment schedules are available on line at

MARL staff have a variety of responsibilities besides instrument operation. Just because there is an opening on the instrument schedule does not mean that staff will be available. You will generally need to plan ahead a few days.

When requesting times by e-mail, please recommend multiple blocks of time that work in your schedule. That improves the chances that at least one time will work. It is often better to meet and plan training in person. We can review your sample and your requirements and work out the schedule at the same time.