Although focused ion beam (FIB) microscopy has been used successfully for milling patterns and creating ultra-thin transmission electron microscopy (TEM) sections of polymers and other soft materials, little has been documented regarding FIB-induced damage of these materials beyond qualitative evaluations of microstructure. In this study, we sought to identify steps in the FIB preparation process that can cause changes in chemical composition and bonding in soft materials. The impact of various parameters in the FIB-SEM (scanning electron microscopy) sample preparation process, such as final milling voltage, temperature, beam overlap, and mechanical stability of soft samples, was evaluated using two test-case materials systems: polyacrylamide, a low melting-point polymer, and Wyodak lignite coal, a refractory organic material. We evaluated changes in carbon bonding in the samples using X-ray absorption near-edge structure spectroscopy (XANES) at the carbon K edge and compared these samples with samples that had been prepared mechanically using ultramicrotomy. Minor chemical changes were induced in the coal samples during FIB-SEM preparation, and little effect was observed by changing ion-beam parameters. However, polyacrylamide was particularly sensitive to irradiation by the electron beam, which drastically altered the chemistry of the sample, with the primary damage occurring as an increase in the amount of aromatic carbon bonding (C=C). Changes in temperature, final milling voltage and beam overlap led to small improvements in the quality of the specimens. We outline a series of best practices for preparing TEM samples of soft materials using the FIB with respect to preserving chemical structure and mechanical stability.
Citation: Journal of Microscopy-Oxford
Pub Type: Journals
Focused ion beam, FIB, SEM, TEM, STXM, XANES, damage, soft materials