What happens at the nano level has a huge impact on the effectiveness of materials. Researchers from the US Army Research Laboratory (ARL) analyze atomic-level metal and ceramic specimens.
Their work has many benefits including making a difference to the effectiveness of soldiers’ body armor.
In order to explore specimens, the material scientists use an atom probe. This probe helps them understand the structure of materials which are thousands of times smaller than a single width of a hair.
Dr. Chad Hornbuckle is a materials scientist with the laboratory’s Weapons and Materials Research Directorate. He specializes in microstructural characterization using electron microscopes and atom probe tomography (APT).
He explains: “The atom probe gives us a 3D reconstruction at the atomic level… When you see the reconstruction that’s made up of millions of dots, the dots are actually individual atoms.”
It’s important to ensure a high level of accuracy when testing materials and the APT is more accurate that other machines, such as transmission electron microscopes or TEMs.
In order to prepare a sample for analysis, the researchers have to create a very sharp tip. They do this with the chemical element gallium using a dual beam scanning electron microscope or focused ion beam microscope.
Finally, when the sample is ready, it is inserted into the atom probe and kept inside a super cold vacuum. The APT then reveals what atoms are present in a material and their location.
The scientists ionize the atoms in the tip and the individual ions evaporate from the surface using a laser or voltage pulse. These ions are then analyzed and a 3D model is developed at near-atomic spatial resolution.
This atom probe is rare across the country. As a result, the Army is collaborating with universities thanks to due to the Open Campus initiative. They have access to the technology. Meanwhile, the Army also has access to equipment at the university laboratories.
Hornbuckle adds: “When you see things no other human has ever seen before, it’s very cool to think that I’m helping to push the envelope of new modern materials science, which then obviously is used for the Army. Every time we run a new material we think about how we can help the Soldier with this new discovery.”
Source: ARL Army
License: The text of "US Army Research Laboratory uses Atom Probe to Create Atomic-Level 3D Models of Specimens" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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