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Ambient Low Temperature Plasma Etching of Polymer Films for Virtually Damage-free SIMS Molecular Depth Profiling



Shinichiro Muramoto, Timothy M. Brewer, Matthew E. Staymates, John G. Gillen


The feasibility of a low temperature plasma (LTP) probe as a way to prepare polymer bevel cross-sections for secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS) applications was investigated. Poly(lactic acid) and poly(methyl methacrylate) films were etched using He LTP, and the resulting crater walls were depth profiled using time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometry (ToF-SIMS) to examine changes in chemistry over the depth of the film. ToF-SIMS results showed that while exposure to even 1 s of plasma resulted in integration of atmospheric nitrogen and contaminants to the newly exposed surface, the actual chemical modification to the polymer backbone was found to be chemistry-dependent. For PLA, sample modification was confined to the top 15 nm of the PLA surface regardless of plasma exposure dose, while measurable change was not seen for PMMA. The confinement of chemical modification to 15 nm or less of the top surface suggests that LTP can be used as a simple method to prepare cross-sections or bevels of polymer thin films for subsequent analysis by surface-sensitive molecular depth profiling techniques such as SIMS, X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS), and other spatially-resolved mass spectrometric techniques.
Analytical Letters


ambient ionization, depth profiling, low temperature plasma, TOF-SIMS


Muramoto, S. , Brewer, T. , Staymates, M. and Gillen, J. (2012), Ambient Low Temperature Plasma Etching of Polymer Films for Virtually Damage-free SIMS Molecular Depth Profiling, Analytical Letters, [online], (Accessed April 18, 2024)
Created November 8, 2012, Updated February 19, 2017