A method of preparation of specimens of non-electropolishable materials for analysis by atom probes is being developed as a superior alternative to a prior method. In comparison with the prior method, the present method involves less processing time. Also, whereas the prior method yields irregularly shaped and sized specimens, the present developmental method offers the potential to prepare specimens of regular shape and size.

The prior method is called the method of sharp shards because it involves crushing the material of interest and selecting microscopic sharp shards of the material for use as specimens. Each selected shard is oriented with its sharp tip facing away from the tip of a stainless-steel pin and is glued to the tip of the pin by use of silver epoxy. Then the shard is milled by use of a focused ion beam (FIB) to make the shard very thin (relative to its length) and to make its tip sharp enough for atom-probe analysis. The method of sharp shards is extremely time-consuming because the selection of shards must be performed with the help of a microscope, the shards must be positioned on the pins by use of micromanipulators, and the irregularity of size and shape necessitates many hours of FIB milling to sharpen each shard.

In the present method, a flat slab of the material of interest (e.g., a polished sample of rock or a coated semiconductor wafer) is mounted in the sample holder of a dicing saw of the type conventionally used to cut individual integrated circuits out of the wafers on which they are fabricated in batches. A saw blade appropriate to the material of interest is selected. The depth of cut and the distance between successive parallel cuts is made such that what is left after the cuts is a series of thin, parallel ridges on a solid base. Then the workpiece is rotated 90° and the pattern of cuts is repeated, leaving behind a square array of square posts on the solid base.

The posts can be made regular, long, and thin, as required for samples for atom-probe analysis. Because of their small volume and regularity, the amount of FIB-milling time can be much less than that of the method of sharp shards. Individual posts can be broken off for mounting in a manner similar to that of the method of sharp shards. Alternatively, the posts can be left intact on the base and the base can be cut to a small square (e.g., 3 by 3 mm) suitable for mounting in an atom probe of a type capable of accepting multiple-tip specimens. The advantage of multiple-tip specimens is the possibility of analyzing many tips without the time-consuming interchange of specimens.

This work was done by Kim Kuhlman and James Wishard of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For further information, access the Technical Support Package (TSP) free on-line at www.nasatech.com/tsp under the Manufacturing category.

In accordance with Public Law 96-517, the contractor has elected to retain title to this invention. Inquiries concerning rights for its commercial use should be addressed to

Intellectual Assets Office JPL Mail Stop 202-233 4800 Oak Grove Drive Pasadena, CA 91109-8099 (818) 354-2240 E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Refer to NPO-30667, volume and number of this NASA Tech Briefs issue, and the page number.