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Floating Low-Energy Ion Gun

Floating Low-Energy Ion Gun

Making modern consumer electronics possible

Electronics rely on precision engineering and the most accurate measurements physicists can provide. A team led by Professor Mark Dowsett took existing ion guns and revolutionised their effectiveness. By creating a lower energy model, more accurate readings became possible. Manufacturers are now capable of measuring objects down to the nanometre scale. This has helped create the tiny microprocessors and electronics upon which we rely.

The challenge

Existing imaging systems lacked the precision that ever-smaller electronics demanded. High energy beams produced large amounts of secondary ions and a focused ion flow. Yet, this approach resulted in poor vertical resolution. Professor Dowsett and his team had to find a way of squaring the circle, maximising ion transport and image resolution at the same time.

Our approach

In creating the Floating Low-Energy Ion Gun (FLIG), Professor Dowsett combined:

  • Columns with high negative potential (ions transported at high speed but then slowed before striking the sample)

  • Impact energies in the range of 100s or 10s of eV

  • Improved space-charge transport, generating useful impact fluxes up to 50,000 times higher than otherwise possible

  • Nullam arcu.

The world-class support team within the Department of Physics made the first models possible. Ionoptika Ltd, a UK-based SME near Southampton, built later instruments.

Our impact

The FLIG has remained in use with R&D laboratories around the world since the first commercial models arrived over twenty years ago. To this day, the technology “has held its place as state of the art” according to Ionoptika, who have earnt over £4 million in revenue as a result. Computer and mobile phone makers such as Intel, Motorola and Toshiba all rely on the FLIG’s imaging to this day. Professor Dowsett has had an ISO measurement named in his honour thanks to the importance of the FLIG. To this day, all modern electronics owe a debt of thanks to Warwick’s physicists.

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