NIST logo
Bookmark and Share

Three-Dimensional Nanometer Metrology


Three-dimensional measurements of nanometer-scale structures are of increasing importance for nanoscience and nanomanufacturing, including the present and future generations of semiconductor and photonic devices. Our main goals are to advance measurement science for 3D nanostructures, to develop the necessary SI-traceable reference artifacts, measurement methods and dimensionally accurate modeling of the imaging and measurement processes for scanned electron, ion and optical microscopy.


Our world is three-dimensional, and so are the smallest, even nanometer-size structures ranging from integrated circuits (ICs) to tiny particles comprised only of a few (dozen) atoms and to the minuscule building elements created by the emerging nanotechnology. Methods that directly image and measure these structures are as important as others that acquire and interpret some kind of characteristic information associated to their three-dimensional properties. The research and development of imaging and non-imaging dimensional metrology methods of our project makes high-resolution and traceable measurements for scientific, technology and standards uses possible.

The scanning electron microscope (SEM) is one of the workhorse techniques for imaging and characterization for nanotechnology. Significant performance improvements are still possible, especially for nano-scale imaging and dimensional metrology. The work in the Project deals with all significant error sources and is aimed at finding the best performing solutions. Sophisticated measurement methods and advanced algorithms are under development; some of them have already proved to be superior to current commercially available solutions. State-of-the-art instruments, a superb laboratory, many years of expertise and excellent international cooperation are keys to the success of the Project.

Beyond the state-of-the-art instrumentation and measurement methods, it is indispensable to use accurate, physics-based modeling in the interpretation of the results. Therefore, the SEM-based dimensional measurements are supported by accurate Monte Carlo simulation modeling (JMONSEL) of the incident measurement beam-specimen interactions to determine the instrument response profile from various nanometers-scale shapes. JMONSEL supports secondary electron generation modeling for samples in high-vacuum or a gaseous environment SEM (ESEM) mode and utilizes a "model-based library (MBL)" method pioneered by this project to provide accurate edge detection by comparing the measured image intensity distributions to a library of pre-computed images that can be quickly scanned and interpolated to determine the best match. The use a 3D version of MBL to quickly determine the shapes of various nanometer-scale objects is under development.


Atom-resolution 3D SEM measurements. Top-down SEM image of SiO2 IC lines (left bottom), 3D rendered portion of the image (upper right), a few atoms worth of excellent agreement of the SEM and TEM results (bottom right).

Through-focus scanning optical microscopy (TSOM) transforms a conventional optical microscope into a non-imaging, three-dimensional shape metrology tool. It makes use of the effects of intensity and phase variations as a function of focus position and demonstrated sub-nanometer 3D shape measurement sensitivity. The TSOM method was found to be applicable for target sizes ranging from sub-10 nm to over 50 μm, both in transmission and reflection modes. It can be used with wide variety of target sizes, shapes and materials with potentially numerous applications. This measurement method is economical, robust, non-contaminating and has high throughput. It has been demonstrated to be an effective method for nanotechnology in general and especially for IC process control and inspection.


Gold particles on carbon.

Color-coded anaglyph 3D SEM image of gold particles on carbon substrate. The vertical field of view is 1270 nm. One needs red-cyan anaglyph glasses to see the scene in 3D.

Major Accomplishments:

  • Intel-made 10 nm IC structures were successfully measured with the SEM in real three dimensions with excellent, atomic level agreement with transmission electron microscopy results Fig. 1.
  • New 3D measurement techniques allow for the visualization of nanometer-scale structures down to 10 nm and below. The development of measurement methods for the determination of the size, shape and position of these tiny particles is underway Fig. 2.
  • SEMATECH recognizes and recommends TSOM method for the future 3D metrology of FinFET and HAR structures
  • SEMI included TSOM as potential tool for "Metrology techniques to be used in measurement of geometrical parameters of through-silicon vias (TSVs) in 3DS-IC structures"
  • 3D shape evaluated with TSOM was conclusively proved with cross-sectional FIB analysis for high-aspect-ratio targets.
  • Process monitoring method of truly 3D shape objects was proposed/demonstrated based on TSOM analysis
  • TSOM method is being applied to characterize microchannels.


  • Established an MTA (material transfer agreement) with Dolomite Center Ltd, UK to do TSOM studies on microchannels for biology applications (In collaboration with Darwin Reyes). 
  • Established an NDA with Orbotech Ltd., CA to develop nondestructive process monitoring method for HAR structures, TSVs and trenches (for flat panel application) using TSOM.  
  • In the process of establishing collaborations with several companies / universities

Start Date:

February 1, 2008

Lead Organizational Unit:




Molecular Imprints
Nova (Israel)
LETI (France)
CMTI (India)


Carl Zeiss Microscopy GmbH
FEI, Co.
ibss Group, Inc.
Hitachi High Technologies America, Inc.

Laser interferometry sample stage and ESEM in a clean room

Laser interferometry sample stage and ESEM in a clean room.


Andras E. Vladar

100 Bureau Drive, M/S 8212
Gaithersburg, MD 20899-8212