New advanced materials need new, improved analytical techniques to provide greater insight into their composition at the nanoscale, which is critical for fabrication and material performance. However, industry needs the confidence to accept and adopt new techniques, before investing in the instruments to exploit them.
In 2006, we started a measurement programme on sputtering by cluster ion beams for 3D imaging of organic electronics. Working with 40 partners from industry, we have published 23 papers on cluster sputtering and secondary ion emission and provided vital information enabling the method to be reliable, reproducible and trusted by industry.
Importantly, our research unequivocally demonstrated that argon cluster sputtering is superior to C60 sputtering, which was popular prior to our research, but damaged many organic materials and failed completely for organic electronic material. This information informed critical research and development decisions and provided the catalyst for the field and commercial argon cluster sources rapidly evolved for both SIMS and XPS.
Our research provided instrument manufacturers such as Kratos, Thermo, ION-TOF, PHI and Ionoptika with the direction and confidence to develop argon cluster ion sources, which needed significant R&D investment. Kratos, Thermo and ION-TOF have sold over 200 of these ion guns with commercial values between £150-250k each. This level of consumer confidence in a technology only a few years old is directly attributable to the work carried out at NPL.
On top of this, GlaxoSmithKline have invested more than £300k to use 3D SIMS to study drug disposition in cells and tissue at high spatial resolution and made a substantial co-investment in a project led by NPL to build a revolutionary new instrument, the 3D nanoSIMS. ION-TOF and Thermo Scientific are building this new instrument, which will become a new product.