Carl Zeiss ships first helium ion microscope

By Dr Matt Wilkinson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Atom, Scanning electron microscope

Microscopy expert, Carl Zeiss has shipped the world's first
commercial helium ion microscope that promises to allow researchers
to view objects at higher resolutions than ever before.

The new Orion helium ion microscope was shipped to the Advanced Measurement Laboratory (AML) at the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) that develops standards for a wide variety of fields from biotechnology to nanotechnology and semiconductor electronics. The technology was initially developed by ALIS Corporation, a start-up company based in Peabody, Massachusetts in the US, which was acquired by Carl Zeiss SMT in 2006. "We are extremely pleased to have achieved this remarkable milestone in history: initiating a new era in microscopy by shipping the world's first commercial helium ion microscope,"​ said Dirk Stenkamp, member of the Carl Zeiss SMT executive board. "The fact that this instrument has been shipped to a selected customer before its official market introduction later this year clearly reveals the demand for this breakthrough technology. We are especially pleased that the first ORION microscope is destined for the NIST laboratories where research at the limits of physics is carried out on a daily basis." ​ According to the company the new microscope promises to provide unrivalled high resolution images because the system uses helium ions that can be focussed into a very small beam. The beam from a helium ion source is much tighter than those from scanning electron microscopes (SEM). Even if the SEM source is only 2nm in size it will excite a sample volume some 10nm wide and 10nm deep. In contrast, the helium ion source excites a much smaller surface area, but because the helium ions possess more momentum they penetrate deeper into the sample before dispersing which reduces undesirable edge blooming artefacts. The helium ion microscope uses two different detectors to provide greater information about differences between materials. The first detector is a standard secondary electron (SE) detector similar to those used in SEM's, however because each incident helium ion produces more SEs than would be produced by an SEM the signal to noise ratio is higher. The second detector collects helium ions that are scattered from the nuclei of the sample during a process known as Rutherford backscattering. This provides grayscale images that can be directly mapped to the atomic number of the target materials allowing researchers to easily identify material differences in their samples. According to the company, today's scientists are struggling with problems that they cannot solve because they cannot see objects at high enough resolution. "Today's scientists are facing problems they can't solve because they can't see what they need to see,"​ said Bill Ward, principal inventor of the Helium ion microscope, founder of ALIS Corporation and chief technologist at Carl Zeiss SMT."Fortunately, the ORION microscope addresses these issues and will enable further scientific advancements in a large number of fields, such as semiconductor process control, life science applications and materials analysis."

Related topics: Processing

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