SEM courses




Course S3: SEM/EDX of cementitious materials

This course is for anyone with an SEM/EDX system who wishes to use it for examining cementitious materials based on Portland cement. Maybe you work for a cement manufacturer, a construction company or a university and have just acquired an SEM, or 'inherited' one from a colleague who has just left?

If you happen to be new to SEM, or to cement, there is a fair bit to learn! Should you be new to both, there's even more to learn, but there are two pieces of good news. Firstly, it is a fascinating field in which to work. Secondly,we can help shorten the learning curve.

As this has been our specialist subject at WHD since the company was started in 1987, you will perhaps forgive us our enthusiasm for what we believe is the single most powerful and useful tool for studying cementitious sytems. We would be delighted to discuss with you how we can share this enthusiasm and help get you up to speed as quickly as possible.

Picture courtesy Castle Cement.

There are perhaps four logical stages of knowledge in using an SEM to look at cementitious systems:

  • familiarity with SEM/EDX
  • cement
  • concrete
  • applying SEM/EDX to cementitious materials

Clearly, the needs of individual clients will differ. Although the objective is the fourth of the above stages, the first three are essential building blocks and we can supply each of them as required on a modular basis.

While the course can take place using our SEM equipment here in Suffolk, England, it is generally far better if training takes place on your own SEM - that way you become familiar with your own SEM equipment during the course. This can be anywhere worldwide - well, maybe more or less anywhere...

If you have no familiarity with either SEM or cement and concrete, that is no problem. The course programme would be based initially on our W1 'Basics of SEM' course, covering basic SEM and EDX techniques. More advanced EDX techniques, such as quantitative analysis would then overlap with our W2 ('X-ray microanalysis') course. The 'Understanding Cement' seminar would then be an excellent introduction to cement manufacturing, cement hydration, cement and concrete microstructure and deleterious processes.

The SEM/EDX of cementitious materials would build on these necessary foundations. Of course, if you are already familiar with SEM/EDX and with cement and concrete, much of the above preliminaries can be skipped. However, unless you are familiar with applying optical microscopy to both cement and concrete, the 'Understanding Cement' one-day seminar is recommended as an introduction.

Clearly, some experience with optical microscopy would provide a framework on which to base your understanding of what the SEM shows. However, it is by no means essential. If you have little background in either SEM or optical microscopy, you might just as well start with SEM, although eventually you will need some optical, even if you mainly use SEM in your work. While this may seem heresy to some, in many ways SEM is easier than optical microscopy so why not start with it? I did a bit of optical petrography at university but I first looked at cement and concrete with an SEM. Optical microscopists sometimes tend to use SEM just to look at material in cracks, or 'difficult' aggregate. SEM does this very well, just like you can use a Ferrari to collect your groceries, but that is maybe not what it is best at. Whether you bring to SEM the open mind of a novice, or years of experience of optical microscopy, either is good.

The SEM/EDX work will cover: sample preparation techniques; qualitative examination of fracture surfaces and polished sections (which we can supply initially if required); secondary and backscattered electron imaging; hydrated and unhydrated phases in the SEM; qualitative EDX analysis; examination in SEM of concrete showing deleterious processes including alkali-silica reaction; sulfate attack, inc. delayed ettringite formation; carbonation; quantitative EDX analysis; collection and testing of X-ray standards, use of Excel spreadsheets for handling quantitative data, graph plotting; application of quantitative analysis techniques to cementitious materials; cement or cement clinker examination; cement type determination in hardened concrete; slag; PFA; microsilica; hydration product composition; use of atomic ratio plots. Over the years, we have evolved some very useful spreadsheets to manipulate and display X-ray microanalysis data from cement and concrete and these will be available for you to use freely and to keep and modify as you wish.

The relative emphasis on different topics will vary according to your interests - eg: if you are a cement producer, you will wish to have a strong bias towards clinker examination.

There is no 'course book' but frequent reference is made to 'Cement Chemistry' (H F W Taylor, published by Thomas Telford, 2nd ed. 1997) - this is an invaluable book for anyone involved in cement or concrete science and you'll probably have it anyway.

Duration: The course duration will evidently depend on the material covered and your previous experience. The SEM/EDX of cementitious materials itself needs about a week, without the preliminaries. A second week is recommended to allow delegates time to build the confidence that only comes with practice, and also to include other topics, for example examination of autoclaved concrete. So the course duration will probably be about a week but could be up to perhaps two weeks or longer, depending on your previous experience and the number of other delegates on the programme. The course language is English, but we have given courses where the client provided an interpreter - this worked well but progress is obviously a little slower. If you wish, the course can have an additional objective, to prepare a paper written solely by the course students for publication in a suitable journal or meeting; this could provide an extra focus and, once achieved, will help to build confidence in the use of the SEM.

'Distance Mentoring:' We can also offer an additional programme of 'distance mentoring,' where frequent contact with the client is maintained by e-mail or telephone. This enables images and analyses to be exchanged and discussed, so that you do not feel you are totally 'on your own' once the more formal part of the course has finished. This can continue for as long as required, perhaps 3-6 months.

Contact us! As there are quite a few variables to take into account in putting together a course programme, by far the best thing is for you to contact us for an informal discussion by 'phone or e-mail. Based on the information you give us, we can respond with a suggested course outline tailored to your own situation.

Nick Winter

SEM training: intro / SEM basics / X-ray microanalysis / SEM/EDX of cementitious materials






Optical microscopy


Scanning electron microscopy


Examining your clinker


Concrete petrography


Concrete by SEM




Chromium (VI)


Understanding Cement seminars


UC Seminar details


UC e-book


UC Corporate edition


SEM - intro


SEM basics


EDX training


SEM/EDX of cement












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