Nanotip electron gun for the scanning electron microscope



Experimental nanotips have shown significant improvement in the resolution performance of a cold field emission scanning electron microscope (SEM). Nanotip electron sources are very sharp electron emitter tips used as a replacement for the conventional tungsten field emission (FE) electron sources. Nanotips offer higher brightness and smaller electron source size. An electron microscope equipped with a nanotip electron gun can provide images with higher spatial resolution and with better signal-to-noise ratio. This could present a considerable advantage over the current SEM electron gun technology if the tips are sufficiently long-lasting and stable for practical use. In this study, an older field-emission critical dimension (CD) SEM was used as an experimental test platform. Substitution of tungsten nanotips for the regular cathodes required modification of the electron gun circuitry and preparation of nanotips that properly fit the electron gun assembly. In addition, this work contains the results of the modeling and theoretical calculation of the electron gun performance for regular and nanotips, the preparation of the SEM including the design and assembly of a measuring system for essential instrument parameters, design and modification of the electron gun control electronics, development of a procedure for tip exchange, and tests of regular emitter, sharp emitter and nanotips. Nanotip fabrication and characterization procedures were also developed. Using a “sharp” tip as an intermediate to the nanotip clearly demonstrated an improvement in the performance of the test SEM. This and the results of the theoretical assessment gave support for the installation of the nanotips as the next step and pointed to potentially even better performance. Images taken with experimental nanotips showed a minimum two-fold improvement in resolution performance than the specification of the test SEM. The stability of the nanotip electron gun was excellent; the tip stayed useful for highresolution imaging for several hours during many days of tests. The tip lifetime was found to be several months in light use. This paper summarizes the current state of the work and points to future possibilities that will open when electron guns can be designed to take full advantage of the nanotip electron emitters.