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Novel optics let SEM microscopes analyse lighter elements

Posted: 08 Oct 2014     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:scanning electron microscope  reflection zone plate  energy dispersive spectrometer 

Among the number of its applications, the scanning electron microscope is used for precisely detecting the surface topology of samples as well as for identifying their chemical compositions. This is performed by exciting the atoms to fluoresce under irradiation by an electron beam while scanning the sample. This secondary emission gives information about the location and type of element, simply as long as the analysis is adequately precise.

However, the lighter elements of the periodic table including lithium, beryllium, boron, carbon and nitrogen emit secondary fluorescence in an energy range that cannot be sufficiently well resolved by energy dispersive spectrometers (EDS). With this particular issue in mind, a team of researchers has found a way to enabled SEM microscopes to do just that.

A solution to this problem has now been developed at HZB. Alexei Erko, professor and head at HZB's Institute for Nanometre Optics and Technology, has previously designed and patented innovative optics using what is known as reflection zone plates. They are employed in synchrotron sources such as BESSY II for analysing soft X-ray radiation. This optics, consisting of several thousand concentric or elliptical structures, do not refract the radiation the way a glass lens does, but instead diffract them so that interference occurs.

WDS instrument connected to a scanning electron microscope

WDS instrument connected to a scanning electron microscope

Photo of the WDS instrument that is connected to a scanning electron microscope (Zeiss EVO 40) by means of a standard housing and mounting flange.

"Our colleagues from the company IfG Institute for Scientific Instruments had asked me if reflection zone plate optics could also be used in an electron microscope to increase the resolution in the low-energy region. Based on this idea a research project at the non-profit Institut fur angewandte Photonik e.V. and at the company IfG GmbH, a following product development project was executed resulting in a functional prototype of a specialised wavelength dispersive spectrometer (WDS). Using this instrument you can very precisely detect the light elements such as lithium, boron, beryllium, carbon and oxygen with an electron microscope," stated Erko.

The spectrometer consists of an array of 17 reflection zone plates covering the energy range of 50-1120eV. To achieve even higher resolution, the scientists produced optics using 200 reflection zone plates to provide nearly continuous spectral measurements in the energy range of 100-1000eV.

"High resolution in this energy range is important for detecting lighter elements of the periodic table. That is particularly important for research on energy-related materials like solar cells, batteries and solar fuels, as well as catalysts. But it could also be useful in research on magnetic materials and in life sciences. We are very excited about what this new tool can be used for," added Erko.

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