Why is surface analysis important?

The composition of the outer most atomic layers of a material plays a critical role in properties such as: chemical activity, adhesion, wettability, electrostatic behavior, corrosion resistance, bio-compatibility, etc.  In addition, contaminants, process residues, diffusion products, and impurities are typically present at the surface of solid samples or at the interfaces of thin film structures.

The ability to characterize thin film structures, via sputter depth profiling, provides a unique opportunity to examine materials used in thin layers and to study their interaction with materials in adjacent layers.

The ability to analyze sub-micron features, defects, or particulate contaminants is of critical importance to increasing product yield in a number industrial applications including: semiconductor device fabrication, hard disk read/write head fabrication, specialty mirrors, composite materials, etc.

Surface analysis techniques are routinely applied to a broad range of materials systems and high technology industrial products. The following examples illustrate some of the uses of modern surface analysis instruments:

Surface Analysis Applications Semiconductor


Semiconductor chips consist of a series of thin films that have been patterned to produce electronic devices. The use of surface analysis instruments to characterize the composition of thin films or patterned structures and detect contaminants or process residues is critical to the development of new materials, manufacturing processes, and increasing product yield.

Surface Analysis Applications Magnetic Media

Magnetic Media

To meet the demand for increased storage density, the composition of hard disks and tapes has moved to thinner and thinner layered structures. Surface analysis techniques are ideally suited to characterize the nanometer protective coatings and magnetic layers that make up today’s magnetic media. Surface analysis equipment also plays a key role in the detection of contaminants and defects in the media as well as on the read/write heads and other components throughout the disk or tape drive.

Surface Analysis Applications Materials Research

Materials Research

Many basic materials are engineered to provide enhanced physical properties. Metal alloys, glasses, ceramics, and polymers often contain micro-phases and internal boundaries. The composition and distribution of these micro-phases have significant impact on the performance of the end product.

Surface Analysis Applications Polymers


Polymeric materials are widely used for structural materials and coatings in many research and industrial applications. Polymers are often chemically inert and require surface modification to promote properties such as adhesion and wettability. The use of surface analysis instruments to detect and characterize surface modification or contamination of polymer surfaces is critical to the successful end use of many polymeric materials.

Surface Analysis Applications Thin Films and Coatings

Thin Films and Coatings

Thin films and coatings are used or applied to an almost limitless range of applications to provide a specific performance characteristic for a broad range of industrial products. These include coatings that provide antistatic properties, corrosion resistance, reduce wear, and promote adhesion; as well as thin films for optical devices, mirrors, semiconductor devices, magnetic media, and enhance the performance of food wrap.

Surface Analysis Applications Biomedical


The ability to study metal and polymer surface chemistry and correlate it with biocompatibility is a routine application of surface analysis equipment. An emerging application is the study of proteins and other organic materials for the development of biosensor technology and studying mechanisms to promote cell growth.

Surface Analysis Applications Pharmaceutical


The pharmaceutical industry uses layered structures for time released drug delivery and must ensure the cleanliness and function of a variety of drug delivery devices and packaging materials.