Chapter 13: Time-of-Flight Secondary-Ion Mass Spectrometry and Atom Probe Tomography

Steven Harvey, Oana Cojocaru-Miredin

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Time-of-flight secondary-ion mass spectrometry (TOF-SIMS) and atom probe tomography (APT) have many similarities. Both detect the chemical makeup of a solid material at ppm or better sensitivity, while retaining the spatial location information from the signal. Both use a similar principle to measure a signal associated with a given charged secondary ion—the flight time it takes a secondary ion to reach the detector after it is generated. Both are destructive techniques—albeit destructive of very small volumes—because the signal measured is generated by the removal of material from the sample itself. Importantly, both techniques require ultra-high vacuum (UHV) to ensure that the secondary ions, once generated, can reach the detector without collision with other atoms in the gas phase. In the case of TOF-SIMS, the samples can vary from several mm to several inches in size, whereas for APT, the samples are cones several hundred microns in size that are prepared in a special manner (covered in detail later in the chapter). We will discuss the basic fundamentals of each technique and cover several examples of the technique applied to photovoltaic materials, which should give a good idea of the types of information one can gain from TOF-SIMS and APT and how they are complementary as they both operate at different length scales: at the hundreds of microns to hundreds of nanometer scale for TOF-SIMS and at the nanometer to a few angstroms scale for APT.
Original languageAmerican English
Title of host publicationAdvanced Characterization of Thin Film Solar Cells
EditorsM. Al-Jassim, N. Haegel
StatePublished - 2020

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/CH-5K00-75174


  • atom probe tomography
  • time-of-flight secondary-ion mass spectrometry


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