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Microscopy- an art to justify Nanotechnology

Dr Sejal Doshi
The author is a Research Consultant with Ackruti City Ltd, Mumbai

Materials behave differently at the nano-scale compared to familiar human scales and this means nanotech may be more like biology than conventional engineering. Whenever you read an article about nano this or nano that, chances are you come across a large number of confusing three-letter acronyms - AFM, SFM, SEM, TEM, SPM, FIB, CNT and so on. It seems scientists earn extra esteem when they come up with a new three-letter combination. Technology integration, marking the convergence of information technology and digital imaging, is expected to change standard laboratories into advanced research centers. Current innovations in the microscopy industry are towards development of microscopes with higher precision and resolution.

Nanostructured materials take on an enormously rich variety of properties and promise exciting new advances in micromechanical, electronic, and magnetic devices as well as in molecular fabrications. The structure-composition-processing-property relationships for these sub 100 nm-sized materials can only be understood by employing an array of modern microscopy and microanalysis tools. Breakthrough technology in microscopy brings advancements that provide customers with the power to discover things they have never seen before, and to solve problems that were never before solvable.

Microscopes, probes and other equipment are a crucial part of the foundation for a nanotech industry because they enable scientists to actually see what they are making. One of the most important acronyms in nanotechnology is AFM - Atomic Force Microscopy. This instrument has become the most widely used tool for imaging, measuring and manipulating matter at the nano-scale and in turn has inspired a variety of other scanning probe techniques.

With a scanning electron microscope (SEM), scientists can ‘look’ inside layers of silicon wafers to detect subsurface defects, an increasing problem in chip making. By contrast, a Scanning Electron Microscope captures images by measuring the deflection of electrons. It can capture images in the best circumstances down to a nanometer. A focused ion beam, meanwhile, works something like an atomic meat slicer, trimming off thin layers of material.

Transmission electron microscopy (TEM) is a powerful tool for analysis of structure and devices with nano meter scale dimensions.  Quantum dots technology in microscopy is a growing area of interest and is expected to drive the future growth of microscopy market.

Microscope markets are segmented as optical microscopes, electron microscopes, scanning probe microscopes, and focused ion beam microscopy.

Optical microscopes are light microscopes. The optical microscope is limited in the minimum size and nature of the features it can resolve by manufacturability constraints and the physics of light. While optical microscopes once accounted for the bulk of all microscopes sold in the world, today their percentage of total revenue is shrinking. New microscopy technologies have been developed to overcome the limitations of light microscopes.

Electron, scanning probe, and focused ion beam microscopy are essential aspects of different approaches to visualisation at the nanoparticle level. The field of microscopy continues to evolve rapidly, as new requirements and imaging technologies are developed.

The microscope markets are driven by the need for research facilities to attract the most qualified researchers. The best researchers are attracted to good equipment. They will move to where the best equipment is. For enterprises and universities to land and hang on to leading researchers, they have to upgrade their equipment or those people are gone in a year.

Increasing government and corporate funding in life sciences and nanotechnology is predominantly driving the microscopy market. Furthermore, technological advances that enhance ease of usage, automation, better quality imaging and faster/better analysis have also had a huge positive impact on the market.

The US Department of Energy is enlisting partners to develop a microscope that can capture images of particles measuring a half an angstrom, or half the size of a hydrogen atom, a necessary step in the nanotechnology evolution. The $100 million project--known as TEAM, or Transmission Electron Aberration-corrected Microscope--is being conducted at five national laboratories. Hillsboro-based FEI, which makes electron microscopes and other equipment necessary for observing or manipulating individual atoms and molecules, will also participate in the project, along with other companies.

Custom-assembled systems are based on modular approaches to product delivery. Platforms are implemented as frameworks that accept any of a variety of modules. In this manner customisation is supported in the microscope industry. These custom-assembled systems enable end users incorporate existing workflow. The research and industrial use of imaging has shifted rapidly with the increasing significance of nanotechnology.

To look at particles on the nano-scale requires increased sophistication and use of more expensive imaging equipment. This means that fewer organisations can afford the imaging equipment needed to stay competitive and that those organisations that can afford the very expensive imaging equipment will tend to be quite large.

World microscopy market is expected to grow from $2.7 billion in 2010 to $4.5 billion in 2015, at an estimated CAGR of 10.8 per cent from 2010 to 2015. The optical microcopy segment currently dominates the microscopy market. However, it is expected to lose market share to advanced microscopes such as electron and scanning probe. Scanning probe microscopy is the fastest growing market with a CAGR of 18.1 per cent.

Semiconductor industry is currently the largest application area of microscopy and accounts for 31 per cent of the applications market. On the other hand, life sciences and material sciences account for around 27 and 24 per cent respectively of the total market. Nanotechnology accounts for a meager 10 per cent of the market; however, it is expected to grow at faster pace during the forecasted period at a CAGR of 17.9 per cent.

Prominent industry players include Carl Zeiss, FEI Company, Hitachi High Technologies, Shimadzu, Jeol, Leica Microsystems and Olympus. The market players are focusing on enhancing their customer support services and strengthening their distributor network in various geographies. Their future focus is on emerging economies such as Brazil, India and China.

In this global economy, innovation is central. Innovation is based on software systems that improve productivity. Software is used to manage information and make it more accessible. Innovation improves enterprise and business decision making. Nanotechnology and electron microscopes are a central aspect of this global initiative.


Nano Tv