Time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometry (ToF-SIMS)

Time of Flight- Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry (ToF-SIMS) is an analytical technique which provides information about the surfaces of solid materials. It can be used for elemental and molecular analysis, as well as surface mapping of a wide variety of solid state sample types. It is an ideal technique for surveying the surfaces of various types of materials, including organic, inorganic, polymeric, biological, and more.

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What is ToF-SIMS analysis?

ToF-SIMS is an analytical technique which allows the components of a solid surface to be analysed. This begins by firing a focussed beam of ions at the surface of a solid sample. As the ion beam collides with the surface, it causes further “secondary ions” and ionic clusters to be removed from the surface of the sample.

These secondary ions are then passed into a mass spectrometer. Here, the ions accelerate along a flight path, which is held under a vacuum in order to prevent interference. The respective masses of the individual ions will affect the length of time that it takes each ion to pass through the flight chamber. This process separates the ions, and allows them to be detected individually. Once they reach the end of the spectrometer, the ions are registered by a detector, and the information is logged.

From this analysis, data is gathered on the elements and compounds which are present in the surface of the sample, as well as logging their relative positions.

What is ToF-SIMS used for?

ToF-SIMS is a versatile technique which can be used to gather a wide range of information about the surface which is being analysed. It can be used to identify which elements, molecules and compounds are present on a surface. This gives it applications across various fields from organic thin films to biological testing, material science, and much more. One of the most desirable qualities of ToF-SIMS is its ability to retroactively store the locations of the ions that are detected, and digitally map them. This can be used to produce a survey of the surface itself, providing a visual representation of the sample on a very small scale.

What is the difference between ToF-SIMS and SIMS analysis?

SIMS refers more generally to the process of using a beam of ions to excite and remove secondary ions from the surface of a solid state sample, and then analysing these ions through a form of mass spectrometry. ToF (Time of Flight) is one of these types of mass spectrometry, and works by separating the ions based on how long it takes them to travel through the flight chamber. SIMS can instead be combined with other types of mass spectrometers, such as quadrupole or sector field. These will provide different sets of information, and can be used to analyse the surface in slightly different ways.

ToF-SIMS vs XPS- what’s the difference in the techniques and uses?

X-Ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy (XPS) is another analytical technique which is used to identify the elemental composition of a solid state sample. It works by irradiating a sample with a beam of X-rays, which causes surface electrons to be excited and removed. These electrons are picked up by a detector which registers the energy of said electrons. This energy can be analysed, and gives an insight into the elemental composition of the surface. The main difference between the results gathered from XPS and ToF-SIMS is that XPS is primarily used to determine the elements that make up a surface, whereas ToF-SIMS is able to provide more information about molecules and clusters of atoms which exist on the surface. Furthermore, XPS can be used for depth profiling of a sample, while ToF-SIMS is more appropriate for analysing the surface itself.

Sample requirements and preparation

ToF-SIMS can be used on most solid state sample types. Larger solid samples can be analysed as is, and powdered samples can be pressed into an Indium plate prior to analysis. Generally, all ToF-SIMS samples should be handled very cautiously to avoid contamination. Plastic containers and tools should be avoided during handling of samples to avoid contamination.

Need a ToF-SIMS analysis?

Measurlabs offers ToF-SIMS analysis services of high quality with fast results and affordable prices. If you have any questions about your sample or it’s suitability for the method, our experts are always happy to help. You can contact us through the form below or by emailing us at info@measurlabs.com.

Suitable sample matrices

  • Inorganic materials
  • Metals
  • Organic films
  • Polymers

Ideal uses

  • Performing elemental surveys
  • Identifying contaminants on surfaces
  • Creating surface maps of materials
  • Identifying molecules and compounds on surfaces

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Frequently asked questions

What is ToF-SIMS commonly used for?

ToF-SIMS is used to obtain information about the surfaces of solid materials.

What are the limitations of ToF-SIMS?

The largest limitation of ToF-SIMS is that the results gathered are generally qualitative, meaning that it provides a representation of the surface of the sample, but not in an easily quantified manner. This makes it excellent for producing visual maps of a surface, but other techniques may be more appropriate for gathering quantitative data.

What kind of samples can be analysed with ToF-SIMS?

ToF-SIMS is an excellent technique for analysing the surfaces of solid organic, inorganic, polymeric and biological materials.

What is Measurlabs?

Measurlabs offers a variety of laboratory analyses for product developers and quality managers. We perform some of the analyses in our own lab, but mostly we outsource them to carefully selected partner laboratories. This way we can send each sample to the lab that is best suited for the purpose, and offer high-quality analyses with more than a thousand different methods to our clients.

How does the service work?

When you contact us through our contact form or by email, one of our specialists will take ownership of your case and answer your query. You get an offer with all the necessary details about the analysis, and can send your samples to the indicated address. We will then take care of sending your samples to the correct laboratories and write a clear report on the results for you.

How do I send my samples?

Samples are usually delivered to our laboratory via courier. Contact us for further details before sending samples.