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While luminescence is the emission of light from a solid when excited by an external energy source, cathodoluminescence (CL) is the term used when the energy source is high-energy electrons. Although you may not be familiar with the term CL, you have undoubtedly seen it. For many, you see CL when viewing a display (monitor or television) that uses a cathode ray tube (electron gun) to produce light from a phosphor screen or the green viewing screen of a transmission electron microscope.

Many different materials exhibit CL, including phosphors, semiconductors, ceramics, geological minerals, gemstones, organic compounds, and (some) metallic structures for nanophotonic applications. Analysis of the emitted light can reveal important structural and functional properties about a sample that you cannot often achieve by other methods.

A meeting of optical emission spectroscopies and electron microscopy

Cathodoluminescence microscopy is the term used to describe the analysis of light emitted from a sample in an electron microscope; the light may be in the ultraviolet, visible, and infrared wavelength portions of the electromagnetic spectrum.

In an electron microscope, you can attain spatially resolved information (images or maps) by scanning a sub-nm diameter electron beam across the surface of a sample. By collecting and analyzing the CL signal in an electron microscope, this powerful technique combines the functional optical information of luminescence spectroscopies with the high spatial resolution of electron microscopy. This makes CL an attractive technique for a wide variety of applications and research, especially in the fields of optics research, materials science, and geology.

For more information on CL please visit, an educational site.

Research Spotlight

TEM team & collaborators from left to right: Dayne Swearer, Rowan Leary, Emilie Ringe, and Sadegh Yazdi.

The Ringe Group was established in 2014 in the department of Materials Science and NanoEngineering (MSNE) at Rice University, Houston...



Major, minor, and trace element distributions in a meteorite revealed by energy dispersive spectroscopy and cathodoluminescence spectroscopy

Cathodoluminescence as a technique for inspection, metrology, and failure analysis of microLED processing

Cathodoluminescence techniques for the geosciences

Monarc detector

Observation of crystal structure orientation by cathodoluminescence (CL) polarization-filtered spectrum imaging




Determining photonic band structure by energy-momentum spectroscopy in an electron microscope

Spectroscopic analysis of ultra-wide bandgap semiconductors

Streamlined microanalysis in the SEM

High-speed, hyperspectral (spectrum) imaging for all with the Monarc detector

Complete understanding of light emission with nanoscale spatial resolution

Investigating the optical properties of nanophotonic materials far below the diffraction limit

MonoCL4 system

Revealing the spatial distribution of phases in perovskite solar cells for the development of high efficiency and stable devices

A new role for cathodoluminescence spectroscopy and imaging as an analytical tool to support the development of pharmaceutical products

High spatial resolution cathodoluminescence

Vulcan™ detector for cathodoluminescence in the TEM

An example of why it is so important to correlate the structural and optical properties of semiconductor nanorods directly

Nano-cathodoluminescence reveals the effect of indium segregation on the optical properties of nitride semiconductor nanorods

Cathodoluminescence from insulators, metals, and plasmonics

Mapping the electronic bandgap of semiconductor compounds with milli-electron volt accuracy

Nano-cathodoluminescence enables the design of light-emitting diodes with higher efficiencies

A nanoscale cathodoluminescence study of nitride semiconductor nanowires

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