Editorial Feature

How Could Benchtop Systems Supercharge Nanoscience Research?

Nanoscience research relies on advanced fabrication and characterization techniques to create and evaluate devices and materials at the sub-micron scale.1 Working at this level demands exceptional accuracy, precision, and spatial resolution from experimental hardware.

How Could Benchtop Systems Supercharge Nanoscience Research?

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Electron beam technologies are used for both imaging and machining in nanoscience. The family of electron microscopy methods, including scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and transmission electron microscopy (TEM), are commonly used owing to their excellent spatial resolutions, which can be as high as 0.5 Å.2,3

Historically, electron microscopes required significant laboratory space and often necessitated installation in specially vibrationally damped environments.4

However, there are now several benchtop-sized instruments available that are enabling a whole new range of applications, including those requiring portable instrumentation.5,6

Benchtop Systems

Although there is no strict size definition for what constitutes a 'benchtop' scale instrument, it is usually considered to be hardware that would reasonably fit on top of a laboratory bench without the need for any specialized infrastructure.

The current generation of benchtop electron microscopes represents just a fraction of the small-scale instruments utilized in nanoscience. Many other popular analytical techniques in nanoscience now have commercially available benchtop scale instrumentation.7

Some examples of instruments that are relatively easy to scale down for benchtop spectrometers or even portable for nanoscience include those used for laser spectroscopy and imaging techniques.

Raman spectroscopy, absorption, or reflectance measurements are very popular in nanoscience. These techniques provide valuable spectral information, offering insights into a material's suitability for potential optical applications.8,9

The miniaturization of these techniques has been propelled by advancements in solid-state laser systems, which have helped miniaturize the light sources required for performing imaging and spectroscopy measurements.

Enhancements in detector technologies, including CMOS sensors and photodiodes (frequently used for imaging and spectroscopy applications), have supported the reduction in instrument size.7

On the fabrication side of nanoscience, techniques like imprinting or stamping substrates to create nanoscale structures, along with 'direct-write' methods such as lithography, have seen success in benchtop formats. 10,11

Focused ion beam (FIB) methods have gained significant popularity for addressing the most challenging fabrication tasks in nanoscience. These methods provide an exceptionally high degree of control over material removal.12

While benchtop FIB systems have not yet achieved the same level of spatial resolution as their larger counterparts, there has been notable progress in their miniaturization, suggesting the potential for compact, high-resolution manufacturing in the near future.

Advantages of Benchtop Systems

The primary motivations for employing benchtop systems are space and cost. Smaller instruments allow for a variety of analytical and fabrication methods to be housed in a single room, often at a lower cost than larger equivalents.

The main drawback of benchtop systems is that few can achieve the same level of ultimate measurement or manufacturing performance as their larger-scale counterparts.

When selecting an instrument, it is important to clearly understand what parameters and tolerances are acceptable for the method of choice.

Benchtop and small-footprint systems offer more possibilities for combining workflows across different instrumentation.

Considerable research and interest are focused on developing high-throughput platforms for the manufacture and characterization of nanomaterials. This effort aims to enhance efficiency and facilitate automated discovery and design processes for the development of new materials.13

Having instruments close together makes performing multiple measurements on multiple instrument platforms easier, particularly if automated sample transfer is to be used.

Benchtop Systems for Nanoscience: Challenges and Innovative Solutions

For some techniques, such as UV-vis spectroscopy, the majority of commercial instruments available are benchtop instruments whose detection limits and wavelength resolution meet the needs of nearly all applications, except for highly specialized ones.

However, for other measurement types, like electron microscopy, using a benchtop instrument typically compromises the microscope's performance.

Additionally, physical constraints related to the size and strength of magnets mean that benchtop instruments may not achieve the performance levels of their larger counterparts for certain measurements. However, for numerous applications, this degree of sensitivity and performance may not be essential.

Enhancing the general performance of benchtop instruments will be important for many areas of nanoscience. There is also a growing need for instruments that are more modular, adaptable, and capable of integrating multiple types of measurements.

Nanomaterials often require several characterization approaches, such as identifying the elemental structure and the spatial arrangement of atoms. Thus, it would be convenient to have single platforms capable of performing all necessary measurements.

More from AZoNano: How Does Nanoparticle Tracking Analysis Work?

References and Further Reading

  1. Thomas, S., Kalarikkal, N., Abraham, AR. (2021). Design, Fabrication, and Characterization of Multifunctional Nanomaterials. Elsevier. doi.org/10.1016/C2019-0-00948-X
  2. Wang, ZL. (2003). New Developments in Transmission Electron Microscopy for Nanotechnology. Advanced Materials. doi.org/10.1002/adma.200300384
  3. Yao, N., Wang, ZL. (2005). Handbook of microscopy for nanotechnology (p. 745). Boston: Kluwer academic publishers. [Online]. Springer. Available at: doi.org/10.1007/1-4020-8006-9
  4. Chikkamaranahalli, SB., Vallance, RR., Damazo, BN., Silver, RM. (2006). Damping mechanisms for precision applications in UHV environment. [Online] NIST. Available at: https://www.nist.gov/publications/damping-mechanisms-precision-applications-uhv-environment
  5. Cohen Hyams, T., Mam, K., Killingsworth, MC. (2020). Scanning electron microscopy as a new tool for diagnostic pathology and cell biology. Micron. doi.org/10.1016/j.micron.2019.102797
  6. Harvey, K., Edwards, G. (2022). Using Benchtop Scanning Electron Microscopy as a Valuable Imaging Tool in Various Applications. Microscopy Today. doi.org/10.1017/s155192952200110
  7. Mandelis, A. (2020). Focus on lasers, imaging, nanoscience, and nanotechnology. Physics Today. doi.org/10.1063/pt.3.4551
  8. Crut, A., Maioli, P., Del Fatti, N., Vallée, F. (2014). Optical absorption and scattering spectroscopies of single nano-objects. Chemical Society Reviews. doi.org/10.1039/c3cs60367a
  9. Newberry, D. (2020). Tools Used in Nanoscience. Nanotechnology Past and Present. doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-02084-1_3
  10. Meenakshi, V., Babayan, Y., Odom, T. W. (2007). Benchtop nanoscale patterning using soft lithography. Journal of Chemical Education. doi.org/10.1021/ed084p1795
  11. Helt, JM., Drain, CM., Batteas, JD. (2004). A Benchtop Method for the Fabrication and Patterning of Nanoscale Structures on Polymers. Journal of the American Chemical Society. doi.org/10.1021/ja035142i
  12. Utke, I., Moshkalev, S., Russell, P. (2012). Nanofabrication using focused ion and electron beams: principles and applications. Oxford University Press. doi.org/10.1080/00107514.2013.810671
  13. Radnik, J., et al. (2022). Automation and Standardization—A Coupled Approach Towards Reproducible Sample Preparation Protocols for Nanomaterial Analysis. Molecules. doi.org/10.3390/molecules27030985

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Rebecca Ingle, Ph.D

Written by

Rebecca Ingle, Ph.D

Dr. Rebecca Ingle is a researcher in the field of ultrafast spectroscopy, where she specializes in using X-ray and optical spectroscopies to track precisely what happens during light-triggered chemical reactions.

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