Neat and Nano – Part 3

by Michael Mullaney on May 5, 2011

Picking up where I left off yesterday. At another stop on the tour of the Rensselaer clean room, Applications Engineer David Frey gave us the inside scoop on lab’s dual beam scanning electron microscope (SEM)/ Focused Ion Beam (FIB) machine. See above for a shot of David hard at work on the device.
You know the “this is not your father’s Oldsmobile” line? Well, following that same line of thinking, the SEM/FIB is certainly not the microscope you used in Mrs. Reilly’s chemistry class back in high school.

The SEM is a powerful yet surprisingly easy-to-use instrument that allows David and other to obtain images from a huge range of magnification – from 50x to more than 500,000x. That’s a whole lot of zoom. The clean room folks were talking about how everyday stuff – from a dead fly, to a bread crumb, or an eyelash – appear otherworldly when zoomed to magnifications on the order of hundreds of thousands. Sadly, I don’t have a photo of any of those to share with you. Next time, I promise.

The FIB half of the machine is fun. David showed us how the FIB’s ion beam can etch small-scale features into the materials you’re viewing with the microscope. The concept of FIB is fairly intuitive, and not dissimilar from sand blasting or water jet cutting. Instead of sand or water, however, the FIB does its milling with the help of a beam of gallium ions.

Stop by Monday for the fourth and final report from our tour of the Rensselaer clean room.