ALIS (Atomic Level Imaging Source), a Peabody, Massachusetts based unit of Carl Zeiss SMT AG, is another winner of WSJ’s 2007 Technology Innovation Awards, in the category of Materials and Other Base Technologies. Its Orion Helium Ion Microscope, described as “the brightest illumination source ever created by man,” offers unprecedented spatial resolution and ease of use, over electronic microscopes. The company has so far sold one unit, and has five more under construction.
In a move that will revolutionize the way we view the world, Carl Zeiss SMT has developed a next-generation microscopy tool that is able to see things never before visible.
This breakthrough in physics is an important milestone because advancements in electron microscopy have been few and far between since the mid-1960s, and scanning electron microscopes are near their practical performance limits. Today’s scientists struggle with problems they can’t solve because they can’t see what they need to see. In addition, sample preparation procedures are slow, tedious and imprecise.
Carl Zeiss SMT discovered the key that unlocked the potential of a gas field ion source (GFIS) to make possible a whole new, disruptive, microscopy tool. The Orion helium ion source enables this new generation helium ion microscope.
The Orion helium ion microscope operates somewhat like a typical focused ion beam system. There is a source, which produces a stream of helium ions; a column which accelerates, collimates, focuses and scans the beam; and a vacuum chamber that contains the sample to be imaged. A variety of detectors provide the flexibility of generating images.
The ALIS scanning ion microscope uses a beam of helium ions as the imaging particles. Since ions can be focused into a smaller probe size and have less sample interaction than electrons, the ALIS microscope can generate higher resolution images with more material contrast so more detail can be seen. We expect to be able to see things much smaller than we’ve ever been able to see with even the most sophisticated scanning electron microscope (SEM).