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Infography: The world seen with ion beams

Ion beams with MeV energies can probe the world at different scales to reveal a wealth of information: from the nano-structure of nanocrystalline materials to studies of air pollution, ion beams have been used in Mars, in museums, and can reveal the structure of proteins or the minerals present in rocks.

Ion beam analysis (IBA) methods have been crucial in understanding the mixing and demixing behaviours of polymers.  Using this understanding, many novel and highly useful types of devices and materials can be made.  Plastic electronics is now a huge market, as also is plastic packaging and coating.  We rely on plastic coatings for durability under very testing conditions, and it is the polymer chemists who have to deliver this performance.

This wonderful picture is obtained by X-ray crystallography (XRX) on the European Synchrotron Research Facility in Grenoble,  beamline ID-29.  It is an interesting protein of significance in cancer studies,  and the Zn atoms are crucially important to the protein.  But XRX only specifies the existence and location of metal ions,  it is the complementary IBA that identifies and quantifies them.

Air pollution from aerosols immediately and directly affects human health,  and also impacts the earth system in several ways including the modification of the earth's radiative balance, and its influence on biogeochemical cycles.  These profoundly affect global warming with correlated huge changes in the biosphere.  IBA has contributed greatly to our understanding.

Where has all the water gone?  The surface of Mars looks (to the geologists) as though it was previously a very wet place, and many other types of analysis appear to confirm this;  but Mars now is clearly very dry.  What we will address in this Case Study is how elemental analysis using nuclear methods can give near-100% mass closure for the composition of the rocks tested,  that is,  including the water contained in hydrated minerals.

It turns out that we can demonstrate that indeed organic molecules can survive the high temperatures generated by massive meteor impact events.  And Ion Beam Analysis started this story off!

The “silicides” shown in the picture are essential to modern integrated circuits.  But their materials science is complicated,  and the picture shows a two-hour RBS experiment effectively sorting out all the complications!  This is only one example of real-time measurements:  these can be extraordinarily efficient,  readily giving details of processes that are hard (or impossible) to obtain conventionally.

Nanofluidics technology is a wonderful research enabler,  and large scale production of nanofluidic devices is central to the burgeoning field of "lab-on-a-chip",  which are devices with many important applications allowing chemistry with miniscule quantities of reagents.  This Case Study explores the use of focussed ion beams to prototype such new devices.

The French Ministry of Culture has its own ion beam accelerator, located underneath the Louvre Museum in Paris, and can image its treasures to find out what the thin surface layers (paint or gilding) are made of.

Little trapped bubbles (“inclusions”) of liquids tell the geologists lots and lots about which mineral deposits are where.  Ion beam analysis provides the scientists with a very powerful tool to analyse the the inclusions without destroying their rocks.


Quality Assurance in an Ion Beam Laboratory

Silicon chips are inside every computer:  we take them for granted, but the technology is very complicated:  it is amazing that it works at all!  An essential part of the fabrication process is "ion implantation",  and it is critical that this is done accurately.  Quality Assurance (QA) is of great importance in the semiconductor industry. Researchers have supported the development of new processes by establishing highly reliable implantation through careful QA,  underpinned by Rutherford backscattering spectrometry (RBS) of an unprecedented accuracy. This Case Study shows how such high quality RBS is done, and what use it might have:  in particular it is of great interest to metrologists,  and to anyone else who needs reference materials,  since it is a new "primary reference method".