Over the past few years, a wide variety of microscopy techniques able to measure key properties of thin dielectric films at the nano scale has emerged. By means of electrostatic force microscopy, scanning capacitance microscopy and scanning microwave microscopy, the dielectric constant of oxides and polymers films as well as biomembranes can be probed. The new volumetric scanning microwave microscope (VSMM) can measure permittivity, conductivity, resistivity with nano-scale resolution. Developed within the EU-funded project V-SMMART NANO (Volumetric scanning microwave microscopy analytical and research tool for nanotechnology), VSMM can probe the subsurface 3D structure of materials in situ. The consortium that developed VSMM was composed of three small and medium-sized enterprises, a research and technology development company, and three research institutes. V-SMMART NANO partners brought together their world-leading expertise to make this innovative instrument a reality and bring it to market. Inability to map the spatial distribution of electromagnetic properties had long been an important barrier to the adequate characterisation of materials in numerous fields. The new microscope platform promises an unprecedented 3D view of local properties of real-life systems, including nanoparticle drug uptake in biological cells and trap mechanisms in solar cells. Advanced methods for calibration and provision of traceability have also been developed to ensure that VSMM measurements are quantitatively meaningful and of optimum accuracy. The instrument relies on scanning probe microscopy (SPM) cantilever technology, making it also compatible with other SPM-based tools. These unique features allow for multi-physical materials characterisation at the nano scale. The introduction of VSMM will place the EU ahead in next-generation tools for high-resolution 3D imaging of materials at the nano scale. V-SMMART NANO's technology for probing the spatial distribution of materials' electromagnetic properties is unique not only among commercial instruments but also among those now used in laboratories. VSMM's ability to investigate subsurface structures and materials' electromagnetic properties will foster important developments in fields ranging from life sciences to photovoltaics. It will promote fundamental understanding and discovery of materials that can form the foundations of the next generation of nanomaterials. Watch the project’s video here.
Nano scale, imaging, microscopy, dielectric, volumetric scanning microwave microscope, V-SMMART NANO