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Atom probe tomography (APT) is often introduced as providing “atomic-scale” mapping of the composition of materials and as such is often exploited to analyze atomic neighborhoods within a material. Yet quantifying the actual spatial performance of the technique in a general case remains challenging, as it depends on the material system being investigated as well as on the specimen's geometry. Here, by using comparisons with field-ion microscopy experiments, field-ion imaging and field evaporation simulations, we provide the basis for a critical reflection on the spatial performance of APT in the analysis of pure metals, low alloyed systems and concentrated solid solutions (i.e., akin to high-entropy alloys). The spatial resolution imposes strong limitations on the possible interpretation of measured atomic neighborhoods, and directional neighborhood analyses restricted to the depth are expected to be more robust. We hope this work gets the community to reflect on its practices, in the same way, it got us to reflect on our work.
Three-dimensional field ion microscopy is a powerful technique to analyze material at a truly atomic scale. Most previous studies have been made on pure, crystalline materials such as tungsten or iron. In this article, we study more complex materials, and we present the first images of an amorphous sample, showing the capability to visualize the compositional fluctuations compatible with theoretical medium order in a metallic glass (FeBSi), which is extremely challenging to observe directly using other microscopy techniques. The intensity of the spots of the atoms at the moment of field evaporation in a field ion micrograph can be used as a proxy for identifying the elemental identity of the imaged atoms. By exploiting the elemental identification and positioning information from field ion images, we show the capability of this technique to provide imaging of recrystallized phases in the annealed sample with a superior spatial resolution compared with atom probe tomography.
This article presents a fast and highly efficient algorithm developed to reconstruct a three-dimensional (3D) volume with a high spatial precision from a set of field ion microscopy (FIM) images, and specific tools developed to characterize crystallographic lattice and defects. A set of FIM digital images and image processing algorithms allow the construction of a 3D reconstruction of the sample at the atomic scale. The capability of the 3D FIM to resolve the crystallographic lattice and the finest defects in metals opens a new way to analyze materials. This spatial precision was quantified on tungsten, analyzed at different analyzing conditions. A specific data mining tool, based on Fourier transforms, was also developed to characterize lattice distortions in the reconstructed volumes. This tool has been used in simulated and experimental volumes to successfully locate and characterize defects such as dislocations and grain boundaries.
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