A method and an electron source are provided for generating polarized electrons for an electron microscope. The electron source includes a photoemissive cathode and a low-power drive laser. The geometry of the photoemissive cathode uses a generally planar emission surface, which is imaged to approximately 1/100 its initial size via electrostatic focusing elements. The virtual emitter, or image spot, then is used as an electron source by a conventional microscope column.
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