Microprobe

Microprobe

[mahy-kruh-prohb]
A microprobe is an instrument that applies a stable and well-focused beam of charged particles (electrons or ions) to a sample. Scientists use this beam of charged particles to determine the elemental composition of solid materials (minerals, glasses, metals). The chemical composition of the target can be found from the elemental data extracted through emitted X-rays (in the case where the primary beam consists of charged electrons) or measurement of an emitted secondary beam of material sputtered from the target (in the case where the primary beam consists of charged ions). When the primary beam consists of accelerated electrons, the probe is termed an electron microprobe, when the primary beam consists of accelerated ions, the term Ion Microprobe is used. An Ion Microprobe makes a small portion of the material into a plasma; the analysis is done by the same basic techniques as the ones used in mass spectrometry.

Another use for microprobes is the production of micro and nano sized devices, as in MEMS and NEMS. The advantage that microprobes have over other lithography processes is that a microprobe beam can be scanned or directed over any area of the sample. This scanning of the microprobe beam can be imagined to be like using a very fine tipped pencil to draw your design on a paper or in a drawing program. Traditional lithography processes use photons which cannot be scanned and therefore masks are needed to selectively expose your sample to radiation. It is the radiation that causes changes of your sample, which in turn allows scientists and engineers to develop tiny devices such as microprocessors, accelerometers (like in most car safety systems), etc.

The term microprobe may also be applied to optical analytical techniques, when the instrument is set up to analyse micro samples or micro areas of larger specimens. Such techniques include micro Raman spectroscopy, micro infrared spectroscopy and micro LIBS. All of these techniques involve modified optical microscopes to locate the area to be analysed, direct the probe beam and collect the analytical signal.

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