Insights from industry

Innovative Research Tools for Nanofabrication

In this interview, Dr Mohan Ananth, Senior Director of Marketing and Product Management for Carl Zeiss Microscopy, talks to AZoNano about their new Orion NanoFab multibeam ion microscope. The NanoFab platform was launched at emc2012 in Manchester, UK.

Can you tell us a bit about Carl Zeiss Microscopy and your products, and your role within the larger Zeiss group?

The Carl Zeiss Group motto is “we make it visible” – anything to do with optics, we are involved in. We make everything from microscopes to telescopes and planetarium instruments.

There are six businesses within Zeiss – I belong to Carl Zeiss Microscopy, which has a broad portfolio of light, electron and ion microscopes. There are other companies that make subsets of these products, but Carl Zeiss Microscopy is the only one that makes the complete range from optical to electron and ion microscopes.

Carl Zeiss Microscopy is known for innovating and creating new products and technologies. Our focus is the research market; that is the core area for us and plays to our strengths. Through product innovation we deliver really cutting edge instruments and solutions to our research customers.

I think the Orion NanoFab, our latest product, is a classic example of this core strength of Zeiss. We are targeting the research market in academia, industry, and government, and we’re bringing this new and really innovative product to the market.

How does the Orion NanoFab fit into the existing product spectrum?

Nanofabrication is a relatively new area, which basically involves creating extremely small structures and devices. The field at the moment is all about prototyping. When a researcher has an idea about how to make a certain device, they want to make a prototype – they don’t need a huge fabrication facility capable of making hundreds or thousands of devices, just the capability to make a few of them, in a very specialized environment. That’s where these nanofabrication tools come in.

Typically, when people talk about using ion beams for nanofabrication, they are talking about gallium ions. Electron beams are also used, mainly for lithographic processing, whereas ion beams are used for direct machining, sputtering, or material removal, as well as deposition and etching.

So within the ion-beam system space, the most popular and common is the gallium focused ion beam. This technology has been around for 3 decades or so now. In these gallium ion systems, you have a probe which is about 5 nm in size, and you can fabricate structures down to 30-40 nm. People have managed to make smaller features, maybe down to 10 or 15 nm, but those are highly specialized examples – they are the exception, not the rule.

However, the push in the field of nanofabrication is naturally towards smaller and smaller structures, and we have been working on ways to achieve that. We have used our proprietary gas field ion source technology, to enable the fabrication of these increasingly small structures. We have the ability to create a focused beam of inert gas ions down to a probe size below 0.5nm. This was originally using helium and we have now extended it to neon as well.

The helium and neon ions are lighter than gallium, and can be focused into a much smaller probe. You can do similar things with helium and neon as you could with gallium, but in a more precise and controlled fashion at a much smaller size scale. This enables fabrication of nanostructures below 10nm, something that was not possible previously using ion beams.

In this video, Mohan gives Will Soutter a brief introduction to the Orion Nanofab at emc2012, where the new product was officially launched.

What impact will these new capabilities have on your research customers?

The use of helium and neon ions adds an entirely new dimension to nanofabrication for research. For the first time researchers can easily and routinely fabricate arrays of 5nm holes in different materials like silicon nitride and aluminium, fabricate nano-antennae with 4nm gaps in gold, and make 5nm wide ribbons of graphene. The ability to do this is enabling sensor development for biomolecules, extending the capabilities in photonics research, and pushing the frontiers of next generation transistor development. Additionally, researchers typically do not want to do just one thing or the other. Often they want to remove large amounts of material, and then zoom in further and very precisely edit or create smaller features. We have now created a platform where we can integrate a conventional gallium column, along with a helium beam and a neon beam. So you have the entire size range covered in a single platform – from gallium for rapid prototyping and removal of large amounts of material, to helium and neon for really precise, really controlled machining.

The helium beam can also be used for imaging – it gives you a spot size of less than half a nanometre, so the resolution is much greater than what you can get from conventional SEMs. If you consider a classic FIB/SEM (or SEM/FIB) setup, they have a resolution of 1 to 1.5 nm for imaging, and around 3-5nm for machining. The NanoFab platform can give you imaging below 0.5nm, along with the full range of fabrication capabilities from sub 10nm up to microns. With this instrument you now have the ability to do rapid prototyping with gallium combined with precise and controlled machining using helium and neon.

What are the main research applications for the Orion NanoFab?

If I was to categorize the application areas very broadly, it would be circuit editing and analysis, ion-beam lithography, plasmonics (and related areas like photonics and phononics), and solid-state nanopores – this is one of the most interesting applications, using the ion beams to create these very small holes, for use in DNA sequencing or chemical sensors.

Those are the areas we have looked at so far. But the real power of this platform is what it can do for the capabilities of research labs.

Let’s consider as an example a large research facility, with lots of users who come in and use the instruments. A lot of these places are looking at expanding their capacity, say by adding another gallium FIB/SEM instrument. If they think about an instrument like the NanoFab, however, they would be able to increase their gallium FIB capacity and also enhance the capabilities of the lab. This would also help to distinguish the facility from all the other labs they are competing against, because researchers there would have access to facilities which a lot of other people don’t.

How has the customer response to the NanoFab been so far? When will the first units be shipping?

The response has been great. We have already taken a few customer orders ahead of the product launch, and we will be shipping very soon – the first one should ship by the middle of October. We are really excited about this product and the applications and solutions it can enable for our customers.

What are the next steps for Carl Zeiss Microscopy? Are there any other exciting technologies in the pipeline?

There are a number of innovative products that will be coming out in light microscopy. My focus is on the ion beam side, but I do know there will be a new product called LightSheet, which is equally innovative, and that will be announced at Neuroscience in New Orleans a few weeks from now.

On the ion microscopy front, there are a number of things that we will be focusing on in the near future. One of these is enhancing the analytical capability of the instrument.

With helium and neon FIBs, you don’t generate X-rays, so you can’t do EDS analysis as you would with a conventional dual-beam system. So we are looking at different ways to enable analytical capabilities on this platform, because people are interested in doing high resolution imaging along with high resolution analysis. If you see a little blip on the screen, you want to know what it is, what it’s composed of.

We are looking at different ways of doing that, and there are a few options that we are developing. There is a lot of exciting research that is going on in that area. There are people presenting results, even at this conference, on some of the analytical capabilities that we are developing on this instrument. So that’s really the next thing we are focusing on.

Where can we find more information about the Orion NanoFab, and Carl Zeiss Microscopy?

You can email us at [email protected], or visit the NanoFab microsite at

The official product trailer for the Carl Zeiss Orion NanoFab.

About Carl Zeiss Microscopy

Carl Zeiss Microscopy is the world's only manufacturer of both light, electron and ion microscopes. The company's extensive portfolio enables research and routine applications in the life and materials sciences.

Their product range includes light and laser scanning microscopes, electron and ion microscopes and spectrometer modules. Users are supported for software for system control, image capture and editing.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent the views of Limited (T/A) AZoNetwork, the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and Conditions of use of this website.

Will Soutter

Written by

Will Soutter

Will has a B.Sc. in Chemistry from the University of Durham, and a M.Sc. in Green Chemistry from the University of York. Naturally, Will is our resident Chemistry expert but, a love of science and the internet makes Will the all-rounder of the team. In his spare time Will likes to play the drums, cook and brew cider.


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