Why SEM is the go-to technology for microfabrication evaluation

By Jake Wilkinson - May 19, 2017

The world of microfabrication is in a constant state of flux. With new technologies, new applications and more difficult problems to be solved, microfabrication is developing at such a speed that it will soon touch all our lives. In the past, microfabrication has been limited to using carbon and semi-conductor materials. But now, new commercial laser techniques, such as those used in the Technology & Applications Center (TAC) at Newport Corporation, are expanding the scope of microfabrication. The range of materials that can be worked on has been extended into polymers, composites, dielectrics and even ceramics. 

Microfabrication of novel materials

With laser technology — such as the µFAB™ laser at the TAC — it’s now possible to shape even brittle ceramics into higher order 3D structures at the nanoscale. This development is expected to have a massive impact on compact sensor designs, tunable acoustic arrays, energy-harvesting devices and diagnostic nanosensors. The Department of NanoEngineering (NE) at UC San Diego has demonstrated a novel tool for fabricating 3D piezoelectric materials that rely on piezoelectric nanoparticles embedded in a photo-labile polymer solution (ACS Nano, 2014, 8 (10), pp 9799–9806). This has huge potential in nanoscale energy harvesting, medical sensors, and bioengineering.

Micro- and nanolaser technology are making it possible for nanofabrication to innovate and move forward. However, it does require the support of excellent imaging technology in the development of new products. There are so many variables to evaluate when integrating new materials that the on-site imaging of microstructures is vital. To evaluate microstructures effectively, a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) that can provide high resolution and a large depth of field is crucial.

The µFAB™ Microfabrication Laser — and microfabrication evaluation with SEM

One example of a SEM enabling on-site imaging of microstructures is illustrated in its application at TAC, where it’s paired with the Laser µFAB™ Microfabrication Workstation. The Laser µFAB™ Microfabrication Workstation is a table-top micromachining tool for various materials, including polymers and ceramics that can produce both 2D and 3D structures. When complementing the system with a SEM, microfabricated structures can be visualized and quality controlled effectively. Dr. Tommaso Baldacchini, a researcher at TAC, has been closely involved in the development of applications for the µFAB™ Laser and uses a Phenom SEM daily; the Phenom Pro.

T Baldacchini with SEM and microfab at Newport.png

Dr. Baldacchini next to the Phenom Pro and µFAB™ laser

CT Phenom at Newport Corp2.jpg                   CT Phenom at Newport Corp3.jpg

Colorized SEM images of a structure within a structure (left), and a miniaturized Michelangelo’s David
(right), microfabricated at Newport Corporation.

Commenting on the desktop SEM, Baldacchini said: “One of the things that really impressed me with the Phenom Pro is its ability to maintain a very high level of performance whilst undergoing frequent use without the requirement of much maintenance. You can tell that it was intentionally designed and engineered for research and development — it takes extremely good nanoscale images.”
 

More about integrating microfabrication with SEM

Micro- and nanofabrication are developing areas of research, and the support of SEM technology is essential. The Phenom Pro SEM is built especially for research and has an excellent image quality — as well as the convenience and capability to fit into any lab environment.

Baldacchini added: “It was obvious that the microscope had been built from the bottom up for individuals who needed to quickly image samples without compromising on performance.”

If you would like to learn even more about how Dr. Baldacchini — and TAC in general — utilizes SEM for microfabrication evaluation, you can download the detailed Case Study here:

 

Download the Newport case study


About the author

Jake Wilkinson is an editor for AZoNetwork, a collection of online science publishing platforms. Jake spends his time writing and interviewing experts on a broad range of topics covering materials science, nanoscience, optics, and clean technology.

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