Atom probe

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The atom probe is a microscope used in material science that was invented in 1967 by Erwin Wilhelm Müller, J. A. Panitz, and S. Brooks McLane.[1] The atom probe is closely related to the method of Field Ion Microscopy, which is the first microscopic method to achieve atomic resolution, occurring in 1951.[2]

Atom probes are unlike conventional optical or electron microscopes, in that the magnification effect comes from the magnification provided by a highly curved electric field, rather than by the manipulation of radiation paths. Technically, the method is destructive in nature removing ions from a sample surface in order to image and identify them, generating magnifications sufficient to observe individual atoms as they are removed from the sample surface. Through coupling of this magnification method with time of flight mass spectrometry, ions evaporated by application of electric pulses can have their mass-to-charge ratio computed.[3]

Through successive evaporation of material, layers of atoms are removed from a specimen, allowing for probing not only of the surface, but also through the material itself.[4] Computer methods are utilised to rebuild a three dimensional view of the sample, prior to it being evaporated, providing atomic scale information on the structure of a sample, as well as providing the type atomic species information.[5] The instrument allows the three-dimensional reconstruction of up to hundreds of millions of atoms from a sharp tip (corresponding to specimen volumes of 10,000-1,000,000 nm3).

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