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Sputtered neutral mass spectrometry (SNMS) is a powerful technique used to analyse solid surfaces to identify their elemental and molecular composition. It is a tool used for failure analysis and material characterization because it can accurately obtain information about a sample’s chemical composition and elemental depth profile, which is vital in many industries to ensure product quality and develop more advanced products. In this blog post, we look at the basics of SNMS and its role in surface analysis.

How does SNMS work?

SNMS works by directing a fine bean of ions onto a sample surface. The impacts eject some ions but mostly neutral particles in a sputtering process. Any ejected ions are rejected and the neutrals are subsequently ionised to be analyzed with a mass spectrometer to look at elemental composition.

SNMS is a primary tool for depth analysis because of its high-depth resolution, achieving depth resolutions of less than 1 nm. It is also easily quantified in the region 0.1% to 100% making it complimentary to SIMS.  This technology allows researchers to study individual layers within a complex structure and can be used on a variety of materials, including ceramics, metals, semiconductors and architectural glass.

Applications of SNMS in Surface Analysis

SNMS can be used in a wide range of surface analysis applications. SNMS has a wide range of applications in surface analysis, including failure analysis, material characterization, and quality control. 

Failure Analysis

If a material fails, SNMS can be used to identify the mechanism of these failures. As SNMS provides accurate concentration depth profiles with high resolutions, this helps identify defects in a material by distribution and location. It can also be used to improve the design and performance of a material.

Material Characterization

SNMS is an ideal solution for studying the surface chemistry of materials,inluding alloy composition and oxidation or nitridation. Other purposes of SNMS in material characterisation include detecting impurities and trace elements and looking at the composition of thin films and coatings. SNMS works very well with insulating inorganic materials.

Quality Control

SNMS is used for quality control and process monitoring of a range of materials because it is a fast,  sensitive, technique and can detect impurities on a trace level. It can be used to determine the composition and thickness of thin films and significantly improves quantitative analysis performance.  In this role it is perfect to measure nanometre thick coatings on low emissivity glass and passivated steel components.

Hiden Analytical and SNMS

Sputtered Neutral Mass Spectrometry is an essential tool for failure analysis, material characterization, and quality control in a wide range of industries, including aerospace, semiconductor manufacturing, and other applications where surface analysis is critical.

Hiden Analytical design, develop and manufacture quadrupole mass spectrometers for applications such as surface analysis, specialised process monitoring and more. Our SNMS surface analysis tools are designed to complement those for SIMS surface analysis, and include our SIMS Workstation and EQS

To learn more about SNMS and its applications, contact a member of Hiden Analytical today.