Surface and Microanalysis Science Division
The work of the Surface and Microanalysis Science Division (SMSD) is on a very high level, and the clear dedication and focus of its staff are very impressive. The SMSD seemed to meet all of the objectives that had been set before it.
ADDRESSING NATIONAL PRIORITIES
SMSD pays great attention to both national and NIST priorities, with the Department of Homeland Security receiving a significant amount of attention. A highlight of this work is the superb project on the identification of small quantities of explosive materials in an airport environment. The challenges are enormous, but the SMSD has met them admirably. The work on the detection of explosive materials transferred from fingers to fingerprints on surfaces is particularly impressive. SMSD has also made strides in the study of reproducible swiping of luggage surfaces as a sampling method. There appears to be a lack of theoretical support for this effort, however. Given that the mechanics of transport is such an important issue, such support would be invaluable in solidifying a very important effort.
Another example of how the SMSD responds to national priorities is the utilization of secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS) for the detection of enriched uranium in samples submitted by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The SMSD has also made the important observation that the production of nanoparticles, a well-known scientific priority and growth area, may have important safety implications. This project, however, may not be as well defined as it could be and may need additional support.
IMPACT AND INNOVATION
The development of trace explosive standards based on the process of ink-jet printing was particularly innovative and satisfies the fundamental standards development responsibility of the laboratory. Although not SRM-based, it is making a big contribution to the calibration and verification of the many detection devices that are now or soon will be located in airports. This work directly supports Presidential Directive HSPD-19 on homeland security and will directly impact airport operations.
The SIMS program allows quantitative verification based on the analysis of very small samples of whether or not an inspected facility is producing highly enriched uranium. It allows determining whether a particular facility has been used to develop a nuclear program and as such is an important program.
The SMSD works on some long-range projects such as small-particle detection and analysis, which will have great relevance for the health and safety issues surrounding nanoparticles in the environment and for airport and port security.
The SMSD exhibited quite a few areas of excellent technical merit. One example is the work of the Microanalysis Research Group. The recent acquisition of a monochromated, aberration-corrected (scanning) transmission electron microscope puts the group at the leading edge of analytical electron microscopy. It will allow SMSD to do state-of-the-art chemical imaging on a very small sample. Recognizing the need for this kind of instrumentation, the division has assigned some extremely talented and widely known and respected staff members to its operation and development.
The workers in the SMSD have advanced the science of microscopy a great deal. Through the use of state-of-the art programmable optical elements and structured laser illumination sources, they have extended the light microscope beyond the well-known diffraction limit. This very valuable approach is far from an inexpensive add-on to a standard microscope. Making this instrument available to academic and industrial scientists would guarantee that it maintains its leading position.
SMSD is well known for its past work in X-ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy and has ongoing research activities using sum-frequency vibrational spectroscopy; this work is an important support for research in the field of spectroscopy.
The SIMS project involving the analysis of organic depth profiles using cluster ion bombardment is very important work, but it would profit quite a bit from stronger attempts to understand the theoretical basis for the excitation process and why some organic layers deviate from the norm.
While the work in molecular electronics is important, it has yet to lead to substantial results, which is a common problem in the field of molecular electronics. Moreover, it will probably not succeed without considerable additional support from experts in synthesis as well as experts with a better grasp of the theory, including aspects of self-assembly, device physics, and modeling. Additionally, connections to device fabricators and clean room operations are highly recommended. Without these additional resources, the work in molecular electronics may not attain significance.
SMSD has created databases to support surface analysis via electron spectroscopy; it should strive to maintain this valuable work well into the future.
SMSD has a very strong program in the analysis of small particles. The automated scanning electron microscopy (SEM)-based particle analysis allows for sizing up to 50,000 particles per hour and for quantifying 3,000 particles per hour. This work has enormous importance in semiconductor manufacturing and the analysis of particulate impurities and explosive materials in the air. These high-throughput methods add greatly to the data-mining capabilities of the division.
SMSD has recognized the importance of evaluating the health and safety risks of nanoparticles. This work would be better served if it were done in a clean room. Nanotechnology is a major thrust for the future, and a knowledge of its risks is clearly important. The production of nanoparticles standards is within the purview of the SMSD, and this work could lead to future SRMs.
SMSD’s move to its new, state-of-the-art building, coupled with the acquisition of new equipment, was thought to be a predictor of further successes. However, it now appears that division personnel will be forced to move to other facilities. The CSTL should work with NIST management to analyze the costs and benefits of these rearrangements.
The policy of hiring many postdoctoral employees for limited terms is an excellent way to always have new ideas circulating within the division. The best of these employees could become permanent researchers for the division and would allow for the continuation of important projects after some current workers retire. This continuity is extremely important, and this aspect of the division’s approach to future hiring is an excellent one. The large number of projects sponsored by the ion mobility spectrometry work attests to the liveliness and timeliness of its research activities.
Collaboration with other CSTL divisions is the norm and a signature of this division. If the collaboration can be extended to groups at universities or to other national laboratories, CSTL’s work would have more impact on the scientific community.
The staff of the division is of high quality and spans many disciplines. This is an excellent factor contributing to scientific progress. However, more technician-level support would bring additional progress.
With the move into the new building, the division was able to improve its instrument suite; as a result, capital needs at this time are not dire. Although manpower issues are ever-present, SMSD does not seem to be struggling in its endeavors.
The quality of the division’s work and its staff are on a very high level, and the dedication and focus of the staff are very impressive. The SMSD seems to be meeting all of the objectives that have been set before it.