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Israeli researchers have developed a smart microscope capable of measuring individual atomic layers

A team of researchers from the Hebrew University has developed a device that is able to easily and quickly measure the properties and thickness of surfaces 35 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. The method is expected to significantly optimize the production of solar cells, flat screens and a variety of futuristic technologies

In a new study and the first of its kind in the world, a team of Israeli researchers, led by doctoral student Ralphie Kenz and Prof. Ronan Rappaport from the Department of Physics at the Hebrew University, succeeded in developing an optical characterization device capable of measuring, with enormous precision, thin surfaces down to the thickness of a single atom. The new method allows measurements on tiny surfaces that are only two microns in diameter (for comparison, the diameter of a human hair is around 70 microns). The innovative device, recently published in the journal Review of Scientific Instruments, operates with a unique easy and convenient method that will optimize the characterization and development of solar cells, flat screens, and even technologies based on new advanced materials and advanced biology.

Industry and research today are based on optical characterization devices, called ellipsometers in scientific language, to measure the properties and exact thickness of different surfaces through the reflection of light from them. However, to date, no ellipsometer is able to accurately and quickly measure structures with a diameter smaller than the diameter of a human hair, structures on which many technologies in our lives are based. Now, the team of researchers from the Hebrew University has set itself the goal of building a precise ellipsometer, which will be able to easily and quickly measure areas on a scale of a few microns.

"Such small structures are used in a variety of modern technologies and research, such as semiconductors, electronic devices, flat screens and the development of technologies in new materials," explains Kenez, adding: "We recently succeeded in developing a new ellipsometer that can accurately and quickly measure and characterize areas as small as two microns in width." According to the researchers, the innovative device is the fastest of its kind to date in collecting data, about a thousand times compared to similar existing devices that are able to measure areas as small as a few microns. The device is so precise that it can detect and measure the thickness of tiny surfaces made of a single atomic layer.

In addition, the new development has been found to be effective in working with standard optical microscopes and standard components, without interfering with the imaging capabilities of existing microscopes. Prof. Rappaport shares: "This makes our technology extremely cheap, compact and versatile. It easily and affordably turns any ordinary microscope into an ellipsometer with superior capabilities compared to any commercial ellipsometer." In other words, the new optical characterization device can save research and development laboratories, as well as industrial plants all over the world very high sums, worth billions of dollars, which are invested in expensive and slow devices.

Recently, the researchers registered a patent for the unique method for performing ellipsometry measurements in optical microscope systems, and they plan to make the technology commercial in the near future. "In the coming years, academic and industrial research and development must adapt to the renewed world also in the methods of production and characterization of the popular technologies. We are sure that the findings of the current research will be of particular interest to the thin film industry, which is a central part of the production of technological devices and is expected to be valued at 22 billion dollars by the year 2029. The device we developed exactly meets the market's requirements in that it is very fast, convenient to use and may significantly reduce production costs - that is, to increase the profits of the industry", Kenz concludes.

The academic article:

More of the topic in Hayadan:

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