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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.
A position and energy-sensitive detector has been developed for atom probe tomography (APT) instruments in order to deal with some mass peak overlap issues encountered in APT experiments. Through this new type of detector, quantitative and qualitative improvements could be considered for critical materials with mass peak overlaps, such as nitrogen and silicon in TiSiN systems, or titanium and carbon in cemented carbide materials. This new detector is based on a thin carbon foil positioned on the front panel of a conventional MCP-DLD detector. According to several studies, it has been demonstrated that the impact of ions on thin carbon foils has the effect of generating a number of transmitted and reflected secondary electrons. The number generated mainly depends on both the kinetic energy and the mass of incident particles. Despite the fact that this phenomenon is well known and has been widely discussed for decades, no studies have been performed to date for using it as a means to discriminate particles energy. Therefore, this study introduces the first experiments on a potential new generation of APT detectors that would be able to resolve mass peak overlaps through the energy-sensitivity of thin carbon foils.
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.
Atom probe tomography (APT) is particularly suited for the analysis of nanoscale microstructural features in metallic alloys. APT has become important in the quantitative assessment at high spatial resolution of light elements, which are notoriously difficult to analyze by electron- or X-ray-based techniques. These control the physical properties of high-strength materials and semiconductors. However, the mass spectrometer of state-of-the-art commercial atom probes with the highest spatial precision and detection efficiency are optimized for elements with mass-to-charge ratios corresponding to Fe and neighboring elements. Little is known on the theoretical performances for light elements. Here, we discuss the theoretical instrumental performance of one such instrument using accurate three-dimensional transient electrostatic simulations in a time-varying field approach. We compare the simulations to experimental measurements obtained on an FeBSi bulk-metallic glass. Dynamics effects during the ion's flight are revealed when examining multi-hit mass-to-charge correlations, and we demonstrate their influence on the mass resolution. The model reveals significant differences in ion projection as a function of the mass. We discuss how these chromatic aberrations affect the spatial precision. This approach shows that by tuning the shape of the voltage pulses used to trigger field evaporation, minimizing the influence of these detrimental dynamic effects is possible.
Atom probe tomography (APT) analysis conditions play a major role in the composition measurement accuracy. Preferential evaporation (PE), which significantly biases the apparent composition, more than other well-known phenomena in APT, is strongly connected to those analysis conditions. One way to optimize them, in order to have the most accurate measurement, is therefore to be able to predict and then to estimate their influence on the apparent composition. An analytical model is proposed to quantify the PE. This model is applied to three different alloys such as NiCu, FeCrNi, and FeCu. The model explains not only the analysis temperature dependence, as in an already existing model, but also the dependence to the pulse fraction and the pulse frequency. Moreover, the model can also provide an energetic constant directly linked to the energy barrier required to field evaporate atom from the sample surface.
This paper describes an alternative way to assign elemental identity to atoms collected by atom probe tomography (APT). This method is based on Bayesian assignation of label through the expectation–maximization method (well known in data analysis). Assuming the correct shape of mass over charge peaks in mass spectra, the probability of each atom to be labeled as a given element is determined, and is used to enhance data visualization and composition mapping in APT analyses. The method is particularly efficient for small count experiments with a low signal to noise ratio, and can be used on small subsets of analyzed volumes, and is complementary to single-ion decomposition methods. Based on the selected model and experimental examples, it is shown that the method enhances our ability to observe and extract information from the raw dataset. The experimental case of the superimposition of the Si peak and N peak in a steel is presented.
We introduce an efficient, automated computational approach for analyzing interfaces within atom probe tomography datasets, enabling quantitative mapping of their thickness, composition, as well as the Gibbsian interfacial excess of each solute. Detailed evaluation of an experimental dataset indicates that compared with the composition map, the interfacial excess map is more robust and exhibits a relatively higher resolution to reveal compositional variations. By field evaporation simulations with a predefined emitter mimicking the experimental dataset, the impact of trajectory aberrations on the measurement of the thickness, composition, and interfacial excess of the decorated interface are systematically analyzed and discussed.
This article reviews recent advances utilizing field-ion microscopy (FIM) to extract atomic-scale three-dimensional images of materials. This capability is not new, as the first atomic-scale reconstructions of features utilizing FIM were demonstrated decades ago. The rise of atom probe tomography, and the application of this latter technique in place of FIM has unfortunately severely limited further FIM development. Currently, the ubiquitous availability of extensive computing power makes it possible to treat and reconstruct FIM data digitally and this development allows the image sequences obtained utilizing FIM to be extremely valuable for many material science and engineering applications. This article demonstrates different applications of these capabilities, focusing on its use in physical metallurgy and semiconductor science and technology.
Accuracy of atom probe tomography measurements is strongly degraded by the presence of phases that have different evaporation fields. In particular, when there are perpendicular interfaces to the tip axis in the specimen, layers thicknesses are systematically biased and the resolution is degraded near the interfaces. Based on an analytical model of field evaporated emitter end-form, a new algorithm dedicated to the 3D reconstruction of multilayered samples was developed. Simulations of field evaporation of bilayer were performed to evaluate the effectiveness of the new algorithm. Compared to the standard state-of-the-art reconstruction methods, the present approach provides much more accurate analyzed volume, and the resolution is clearly improved near the interface. The ability of the algorithm to handle experimental data was also demonstrated. It is shown that the standard algorithm applied to the same data can commit an error on the layers thicknesses up to a factor 2. This new method is not constrained by the classical hemispherical specimen shape assumption.
Atom probe has been developed for investigating materials at the atomic scale and in three dimensions by using either high-voltage (HV) pulses or laser pulses to trigger the field evaporation of surface atoms. In this paper, we propose an atom probe setup with pulsed evaporation achieved by simultaneous application of both methods. This provides a simple way to improve mass resolution without degrading the intrinsic spatial resolution of the instrument. The basic principle of this setup is the combination of both modes, but with a precise control of the delay (at a femtosecond timescale) between voltage and laser pulses. A home-made voltage pulse generator and an air-to-vacuum transmission system are discussed. The shape of the HV pulse presented at the sample apex is experimentally measured. Optimizing the delay between the voltage and the laser pulse improves the mass spectrum quality.
Irradiation of reactor pressure vessel (RPV) steels causes the formation of nanoscale microstructural features (termed radiation damage), which affect the mechanical properties of the vessel. A key tool for characterizing these nanoscale features is atom probe tomography (APT), due to its high spatial resolution and the ability to identify different chemical species in three dimensions. Microstructural observations using APT can underpin development of a mechanistic understanding of defect formation. However, with atom probe analyses there are currently multiple methods for analyzing the data. This can result in inconsistencies between results obtained from different researchers and unnecessary scatter when combining data from multiple sources. This makes interpretation of results more complex and calibration of radiation damage models challenging. In this work simulations of a range of different microstructures are used to directly compare different cluster analysis algorithms and identify their strengths and weaknesses.