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Characterization of Surface Modifications by White Light Interferometry: Applications in Ion Sputtering, Laser Ablation, and Tribology Experiments

Published: February 27th, 2013



1Materials Science Division, Argonne National Laboratory, 2Energy Systems Division, Argonne National Laboratory, 3MassThink LLC

White light microscope interferometry is an optical, noncontact and quick method for measuring the topography of surfaces. It is shown how the method can be applied toward mechanical wear analysis, where wear scars on tribological test samples are analyzed; and in materials science to determine ion beam sputtering or laser ablation volumes and depths.

In materials science and engineering it is often necessary to obtain quantitative measurements of surface topography with micrometer lateral resolution. From the measured surface, 3D topographic maps can be subsequently analyzed using a variety of software packages to extract the information that is needed.

In this article we describe how white light interferometry, and optical profilometry (OP) in general, combined with generic surface analysis software, can be used for materials science and engineering tasks. In this article, a number of applications of white light interferometry for investigation of surface modifications in mass spectrometry, and wear phenomena in tribology and lubrication are demonstrated. We characterize the products of the interaction of semiconductors and metals with energetic ions (sputtering), and laser irradiation (ablation), as well as ex situ measurements of wear of tribological test specimens.

Specifically, we will discuss:

  1. Aspects of traditional ion sputtering-based mass spectrometry such as sputtering rates/yields measurements on Si and Cu and subsequent time-to-depth conversion.
  2. Results of quantitative characterization of the interaction of femtosecond laser irradiation with a semiconductor surface. These results are important for applications such as ablation mass spectrometry, where the quantities of evaporated material can be studied and controlled via pulse duration and energy per pulse. Thus, by determining the crater geometry one can define depth and lateral resolution versus experimental setup conditions.
  3. Measurements of surface roughness parameters in two dimensions, and quantitative measurements of the surface wear that occur as a result of friction and wear tests.

Some inherent drawbacks, possible artifacts, and uncertainty assessments of the white light interferometry approach will be discussed and explained.

The surface of solid materials determines to a large extent properties of interest for those materials: electronically, structurally, and chemically. In many areas of research, the addition of material (for instance, thin film deposition by pulsed laser/magnetron sputtering deposition, physical/chemical vapor deposition), removal of material (reactive ion etching, ion sputtering, laser ablation, etc.), or some other processes, need to be characterized. Additionally, surface modification through interaction with energetic light pulses or charged particles has numerous applications and is of fundamental interest. Tribology, the study of friction and wear, is another are....

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1. Hardware Alignment for General WLI Scan

To obtain quantitative information through WLI, the following steps may serve as a guideline. It is assumed that the operator has basic knowledge of interferometer operation. The guidelines are common regardless of the specific instrument. For some investigations, the specimen will be flat. For others, the specimen may be curved.

  1. Place the sample on the stage with the feature (ion sputtered crater, ion beam/ablated spot, or wear scar) faci.......

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Figure 1
Figure 1. Photograph of a simple profilometer used in the present study: a multiple objective turret is seen in the picture. Two objectives are standard (10x and 50x), and two are Mirau objectives (10x and 50x). This microscope has an intermediate magnification feature that enables step-wise magnification multipliers of 0.62, 1.00, 1.25, or 2.00 to be selected.

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Example 1

WLI is not widely used for surface characterization in tribological work, but it is in fact a powerful method for quantitative measurement of wear volumes for many contact geometries. WLI produces a full 3D representation of the surface that can be analyzed using any of several visualization software packages. These packages enable various types of measurements to be performed. For greater lateral resolution, images can be "stitched" together to produce wide-area information (several mm.......

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The irradiated GaAs sample was provided by Yang Cui of the University of Illinois at Chicago. This work was supported under Contract No. DE-AC02-06CH11357 between UChicago Argonne, LLC and the U.S. Department of Energy and by NASA through grants NNH08AH761 and NNH08ZDA001N, and the Office of Vehicle Technologies of the U.S. Department of Energy under contract DE-AC02-06CH11357. The electron microscopy was accomplished at the Electron Microscopy Center for Materials Research at Argonne National Laboratory, a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science laboratory, operated under Contract DE-AC02-06CH11357 by UChicago Argonne, LLC.


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Name Company Catalog Number Comments
Single crystal substrates of Si, GaAs and Cu for sputtering and ablation
Pure metal alloys for tribology examples

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