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Thin Film Surface Analysis

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Analysis of thin films is a challenging task, with layer structures sometimes in the region of monolayers, conventional techniques, such as EDS are not suited to the analysis.   Static SIMS measurements, where only the top monolayer of material is analysed is perfect for this type of analysis. Thin film surface analysis is a growing domain of instruments focused on the detection of trace and ultra-trace elements down to the parts per million (ppm) range. This is critical in high sensitivity three-dimensional (3D) elemental mapping and depth profiling; both key methods of materials analysis for analytical and preparative materials identification applications.



Secondary ion mass spectrometry, or SIMS, is one of the most sensitive techniques ever developed for interrogating the uppermost surface layers of a material, from depths of several hundred nanometres (nm) to a single atomic layer. It can obtain compositional data down to the parts per billion (ppb) range and is compatible with any material that can reliably be tested in vacuum conditions. Consequently, SIMS instruments are routinely used to analyse ceramics, metals, organic materials, polymers, semiconductors, and more.

This technique is broken down into two distinct methodologies: dynamic and static SIMS. Each of these uses a primary ion beam that impacts a sample in vacuum conditions, causing extremely small volumes of material to be ablated from the surface – a fraction of this ejected material will be ionised. These secondary ions are acquired by the sample inlet of the mass spectrometry unit to develop a robust understanding of the composition of the specimen’s uppermost surface layers.

The primary difference between dynamic and static SIMS is the ion dosage (a higher dose for dynamic SIMS instruments), and that dynamic SIMS cannot be run with a defocussed ion beam; it must be raster scanned across the sample surface to produce a flat-bottomed crater. Hiden Analytical’s SIMS workstation can perform both dynamic and static SIMS analysis in a single consolidated SIMS instrument. With a dual-mode MAXIM mass spectrometer, the SIMS workstation can operate in secondary ion detection mode for +ve/-ve ion detection, and in a secondary neutral detection mode for +ve data quantification. Each mode is compatible with mass range options up to 5000 atomic mass units (amu).

Hiden Analytical’s SIMS Workstation

Our SIMS workstation is a comprehensive solution for depth profiling and compositional analysis of samples in various areas of surface analysis, thin film engineering, nanotechnology, fuel cell research, and more. The system is highly customizable to suit the unique requirements of users in complex fields.

How to Analyse the Top Nano Layers of a Material

If you need more information about performing static or dynamic SIMS analysis, browse our product literature and presentations. For a more detailed insight into the features of our SIMS workstation, simply contact a member of the Hiden Analytical team today.


Related Products

Further Reading

The SIMS Mapper software provides a simple, but powerful, user interface to the SIMS tool.  The species to be analysed are chosen from a period table view, with mass interferences highlighted, and the data are collected as images throughout the analysis.  For depth profiles the gated area can be defined after analysis and images may be stacked to reconstruct the concentration profile in three dimensions.  For less experienced operators, or in a production environment, analyses can be run from previously stored templates and fully automated “queued” running is possible with the automatic stage option.  A range of data export formats allows results to be used by other software packages for enhanced display or processing.

  • 3D imaging
  • depth profiling with highly flexible gating
  • simple choice of species
  • easy set-up for inexperienced users yet full control for experts
  • large live interactive image and depth profile windows
  • export in .csv and proprietary formats 
Click Here to View a our list of Published Research relating to the Hiden SIMS Workstation