The scanning electron microscope (SEM) is a type of electron microscope that images the sample surface by scanning it with a high-energy beam of electrons in a raster scan pattern. The electrons interact with the atoms that make up the sample producing signals that contain information about the sample’s surface topography, composition and other properties such as electrical conductivity.

Transmission electron microscopy (TEM) is a microscopy technique whereby a beam of electrons is transmitted through an ultra thin specimen, interacting with the specimen as it passes through. An image is formed from the interaction of the electrons transmitted through the specimen; the image is magnified and focused onto an imaging device, such as a fluorescent screen, on a layer of photographic film, or to be detected by a sensor such as a CCD camera.
Selected area (electron) diffraction (abbreviated as SAD or SAED), is a crystallographic experimental technique that can be performed inside a transmission electron microscope (TEM).

In a TEM, a thin crystalline specimen is subjected to a parallel beam of high-energy electrons. As TEM specimens are typically ~100 nm thick, and the electrons typically have an energy of 100-400 kiloelectron volts, the electrons pass through the sample easily. In this case, electrons are treated as wave-like, rather than particle-like (see wave-particle duality). Because the wavelength of high-energy electrons is a fraction of a nanometer, and the spacings between atoms in a solid is only slightly larger, the atoms act as a diffraction grating to the electrons, which are diffracted. That is, some fraction of them will be scattered to particular angles, determined by the crystal structure of the sample, while others continue to pass through the sample without deflection.

As a result, the image on the screen of the TEM will be a series of spots—the selected area diffraction pattern, SADP, each spot corresponding to a satisfied diffraction condition of the sample’s crystal structure. If the sample is tilted, the same crystal will stay under illumination, but different diffraction conditions will be activated, and different diffraction spots will appear or disappear.