Nanoscale Characterization and Fabrication Lab (NCFL)

The 15,000 sq. ft. Nanoscale Characterization and Fabrication Laboratory (NCFL) houses a broad array of state-of-the-art electron- and ion-beam characterization tools, as well as office space for staffand visitors.

The NCFL was created to provide researchers with the tools to work in converging disciplines at these dimensions. Established in 2007, it is an initiative of the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science at Virginia Tech. The facility is equipped with more than $13 million in highly specialized equipment, more than half of which was made possible through funding provided by Commonwealth Research Initiative. It seeks to help researchers investigate novel phenomena and build transforming technologies that solve critical challenges.

VT NCFL provides:

  1. Access to advanced equipment for electron microscopy, optical microscopy, and several spectroscopic techniques
  2. Training for students and researchers in the use of the lab's instrumentation
  3. Short courses and characterization services for industry.
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NCFL Instrumentation and Capabilities

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State-of-the-art field emission analytical electron microscope. Includes STEM-HAADF imaging and high spatial resolution Electron Energy Loss Spectroscopy (EELS) and Energy-dispersive X-ray Spectrometry (EDS). Typical applications are
- chemical and structural analysis of a wide range of materials in nanoscale (materials must be high vacuum compatible)
- high-resolution imaging including energy-filtered imaging.

JEOL 2100
A state of the art field thermionic emission analytical electron microscope. A high tilt cryo tomography holder enables the 3D reconstruction of polymeric and biological samples at liquid nitrogen temperatures. The high-resolution pole piece provides 0.2nm point-to-point imaging, enabling high-resolution (HRTEM) imaging. A silicon drift detector-based Energy-dispersive X-ray Spectrometry (EDS) system allows rapid, high-throughput chemical mapping of samples. Typical applications for this instrument are the imaging of soft and hard materials, diffraction analysis of crystalline materials, cryo and room temperature tomography, chemical mapping, and general research.

Philips EM420
A conventional TEM, enabled with bright field and dark field imaging and electron diffraction. The microscope is capable of low acceleration voltage operation (from 60 up to 120kV), thus it is ideal for polymer, biological and other electron beam sensitive materials.


FEI Quanta 600 FEG Environmental SEM
Can operate in high-vacuum and low-vacuum modes. It is used to image samples that are difficult to impossible to image in high vacuum SEMs; in situ experiments such as hydrating, dehydrating and heating samples are possible with the ESEM. It can operate with pressures around the sample up to 4000 Pa and in conjunction with a Peltier stage can image fully hydrated samples, a critical advantage for imaging biological samples. It is equiped with a Bruker Energy-dispersive X-ray Spectrometer (EDS) with a Silicon Drifted Detector.


LEO (Zeiss) Field Emission SEM
Capable of resolution in 2-5 nm size range. It is used for high-resolution imaging of surfaces, qualitative assessment of the distribution of elements (with atomic numbers between boron and uranium), submicron structure analysis, and determination of crystal orientation and crystalline texture.

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Veeco BioScope II
An atomic force microscope integrated with a Nikon confocal microscope and nanolithography package for biological or molecular patterning.

Bruker AFM Multimode, a conventional AFM.


HIROX KH-7700 3D Digital Video Microscope
An optical inspection microscope used to image objects with rough surfaces or irregular topology, do optical comparisons, measure feature sizes in 2 or 3 dimensions, generate 3D profiles, and view objects from multiple perspectives. The optics are optimized for digital imaging and it has a significantly larger depth of field than conventional optical microscopes. It also has a motor driven prism system that makes it possible to record streaming video movies of objects viewed from a rotating perspective.


FEI Helios 600 NanoLab, Focused Ion Beam (FIB)
A dual-beam workstation that combines a high-resolution SEM and a focused ion beam.

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Hysitron TriboIndenter
An automated nanomechanical test instrument for measuring the hardness and elastic modulus of thin films and coatings using controlled indentation of surfaces.


SIMS: Cameca IMS 7f GEO
Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometer (SIMS), used for for surface molecular or elemental analysis, trace element depth profiling, and secondary ion microscopy. This instrument provides true elemental and stable isotopic analysis with high mass resolution and high sensitivity (parts per billion detection limits). The ion probe is optimized for rare earth elements and stable isotopes (H, C, N, O, S) analysis of natural and synthetic materials. It can be used to provide a 3-dimensional chemical analysis profile from a surface into the bulk of a solid with sub-micron spatial resolution.


XPS: PHI Quantera SXM
A Scanning Photoelectron Spectrometer Microprobe (XPS or ESCA) used for quantitative analysis of the chemical elements and chemical states within the top few nanometers of a surface. The Quantera features a focussed, monochromated X-ray source for small-spot analysis, and it is automated for high sample throughput. Depth profiling can be accomplished with automated ion milling.

The NCFL has two sample prep rooms with a variety of sample preparation instrumentation, including:

  • Cryo ultramicrotome
  • Gold and carbon sputterers
  • Leica ion slicer
  • Gentle mill
  • Fischione ion mill
  • Ultrasonic disc cutter
  • Dimple grinder
  • Isomet diamond saw
  • Chemical fume hoods


For a full list of instrument capabilities and cost information, please go to the NCFL website.