V-SMMART - Volumetric Scanning Microwave Microscope Analytical and Research Tool for Nanotechnology

(Nanowerk News) The V-SMMART Nano (Volumetric Scanning Microwave Microscope Analytical and Research Tool for Nanotechnology) project aims to develop a new tool for subsurface analysis that will push the measurement of subsurface structures at the nanoscale to a limit never reached before. The consortium is developing and will commercialise a 3D hybrid Scanning Probe Microscope platform (referred to as Volumetric Scanning Microwave Microscope – VSMM) able to probe the local reflection and transmission of microwaves from samples, and to reconstruct from these signals the subsurface three dimensional structure of the materials with nano-scale spatial resolution in the three spatial dimensions. More specifically the project aims:
  • To develop a new microscope platform, the VSMM together with technical toolkits (calibration kits and nanoscale probes) and transmission S21 toolbox for ultrasensitive measurements of 3D subsurface electromagnetic material properties with nanoscale spatial resolution.
  • To test and apply the new microwave microscope in two research domains; materials science (ferroelectric materials, green technology materials for solar cells and materials for nanoscale field effect transistors) and bio-science (distribution of nanoparticles in cells and tissues for drug delivery applications).
  • To ensure that the European policies and standardization norms are followed to promote the newly developed measurement technology (including ISO, Euramet, CENELEC).
  • The consortium developing and commercialising the VSMM comprises 7 partners: Bio Nano Consulting (London, UK), MC2 (Lille, France), Agilent (Linz, Austria), National Physical Laboratory (Teddington, UK), CNR-IMM (Rome, Italy), IBEC (Barcelona, Spain) and Nanoworld Services (Erlangen, Germany).
    Project Progress to Date
    During the first months of the project, the consortium has focussed primarily on developing the reflection mode (S11, the scattering parameter for reflection) of the current scanning microwave microscopy (SMM) technology and further extending the capabilities of the SMM to enable S21 transmission measurements to be made. To achieve this, the performance and sensitivity of the SMM have been evaluated through the development and implementation of spectroscopic techniques, including complex impedance imaging. These experimental measurements have been supported throughout by utilising state-of-the art computational modelling tools (EMPro and COMSOL), which have aided the validation of the system.
    Furthermore, to support the development of the overall system, calibration kits have been designed, produced and used to enable proper quantification of the measured signals and for enabling the extraction of the intrinsic electromagnetic properties of the materials under investigation. Additionally, a new algorithm has been developed for the calibration of near-field scanning microwave microscopes, which for the first time has enabled the simultaneous measurement of the topography, the capacitance, and the resistance of a sample with standard AFM cantilevers that have a tip radius below 10 nm.
    To date the following key results have been achieved:
  • Fully quantified complex permittivity images of the newly developed calibration kits have been produced
  • The first S21 transmission measurements using the 2D-SMM have been made: 2D SMM imaging of a biological sample, namely fixed THP1 cells (Tamm-Horsfall Protein 1, Human acute monocytic leukaemia cell line) in air and in PBS (phosphate buffered saline) solution
  • The first functional VSMM cantilevers have been manufactured
  • A calibration workflow for complex impedance and complex permittivity evaluation when employing a Scanning Microwave Microscope has been developed
  • 3D radio frequency (RF) modelling software approaches have been tested and compared for optimization of VSMM performance
  • First publications from the project have been published in Ultramicroscopy and in Nanotechnology; two further articles have been submitted for publication
  • Our first newsletter, with highlights of the project to date, has been disseminated.
  • Final Project Aims and Impact
    Nanotech R&D continues to grow across the globe and remains a strong cradle for innovation. In this framework, nanotechnology tools for research purposes have also increased their importance because of the necessity to characterize devices, materials and even biological samples at the nano scale level. Development of VSMM will place the EU ahead in the development of the next generation tools for the high resolution 3D imaging of materials at the nano scale.
    Ultimately, the VSMM, together with the calibration toolkits, nanoscale microwave measuring probes, novel measurement workflows and software automation, will overcome the limitations of current instruments and open a new era for the nanoscale microwave characterization of materials. The main fingerprint of this new instrument will be its ability to map the 3D spatial distribution of the electromagnetic microwave properties of a material (complex permittivity and magnetic susceptibility) with nanoscale spatial distribution in the three spatial directions and with surface and subsurface accessibility (deep down from hundreds of micrometres to millimetres). As such, this instrument will be unique and well beyond the current state of the art, not only in commercial instruments but also among laboratory research instruments. The instrument will allow exploration of the full depth of the sample, which constitutes a real breakthrough in the field.
    The ability to probe the sub-surface structure and materials properties will be invaluable for almost any domain in materials science and semiconductor devices. The application of the VSMM will aid the development of the next generation of electronics and photovoltaics, which in turn is likely to have a direct benefit to green technologies by improving voltaic efficiency. Bringing these technologies to fruition as soon as possible will also reduce the carbon footprint within Europe.
    Additionally, the capabilities for imaging in the life sciences will be advanced, which will boost drug delivery research and, subsequently, a healthcare benefit will be realised. The non-invasive label free monitoring of drug delivery processes mediated by nanoparticles targeting subcellular parts of the cell is a major issue in modern drug delivery research. At present, no label free technology exists for this purpose and hence one usually resorts to some sort of labelling in order to monitor these processes (e.g. optical labelling). However, labelling in drug delivery applications constitutes a major concern as it may interfere with the assay and analysis in terms of modifying the cell response or the efficiency, toxicity and side effects of the drug under test. The project will assess VSMM as a label-free optical tool for studying nanoparticle delivery to cells and tissues.
    Therefore, in terms of the market potential when considering the novel core microwave microscope VSMM, the expected short-term impact at the European market will be around 5 M€/year (roughly 20 setups will be sold per year with each ~250 k€). In the long term (3 years after VSMM product introduction) it is expected that 100 setups will be sold per year worldwide (turnover of 25 M€/year). The novel microscope can be directly and quickly adopted by failure analysis laboratories in semiconductor industry that have the skills and resources to apply this technique (there are 1000+ fabs worldwide including major companies like IBM, Avago, Infineon). Once the full metrological setup has been established, software automation included, and standardization done, a much larger market in materials science and life science can be addressed.
    Source: V-SMMART Nano
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