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Trace Element Detection at Nanometer Scale Spatial Resolution



Dale E. Newbury


Trace elemental constituents present in materials at concentration levels below 0.01 mass fraction can exert significant control on important electronic, optical, chemical, and mechanical properties. Detecting and measuring trace constituents while simultaneously achieving high spatial resolution is a major challenge confronting modern materials science. For lateral spatial resolutions above 1 micrometer, secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS) has often proven satisfactory at concentration levels down to 1 part per million and lower. As the size of features of interest has entered the nanometer scale, the destructive nature of SIMS has proven to be a limitation. Two electron beam techniques offer particular promise. Analytical electron microscopy (AEM) with energy dispersive x-ray spectrometry (EDS) and electron energy loss spectrometry (EELS) performed on thin specimens can achieve lateral resolution approaching 1 nm with fractional detection levels below 1000 ppm. Advances in EELS have recently extended the fractional sensitivity to 10 ppm, with single atom sensitivity possible even for highly diluted samples. For thick bulk specimens, scanning electron microscopy/EDS performed with the new high spectral resolution microcalorimeter x-ray spectrometer offers the possibility of achieving lateral and depth resolution approaching 10 nm with fractional detection limits below 1000 ppm. These electron beam techniques can also provide a variety of advanced morphological and structural imaging modes to complement the compositional information.
Journal of Electron Microscopy


microanalysis, nanoanalysis, scanning electron microscopy, trace analysis


Newbury, D. (1998), Trace Element Detection at Nanometer Scale Spatial Resolution, Journal of Electron Microscopy (Accessed April 19, 2024)
Created September 1, 1998, Updated February 17, 2017