ERC Paves the Way to Three-Dimensional Mapping of Materials with Nanometer-Scale Resolution

Achievement date: 

Researchers affiliated with the Center for Extreme Ultraviolet Science and Technology (ERC EUV), an NSF-funded Engineering Research Center headquartered at Colorado State University, obtained rich composition images of materials with typically 10-20 mm lateral spatial resolution (a mm, or micrometer, is one-millionth of a meter).


These proof-of-principle experiments are paving the way to obtain three-dimensional composition images of biological and material objects with nanometer-scale spatial resolution (a nanometer [nm] is one-billionth of a meter). This capability would open potentials for identifying the chemical state of single cells and studying drug penetration at the single-cell level.


Mass spectrometry imaging (MSI) has played a vital role in direct examination of the chemical composition of complex biological samples. In MSI chemical signatures are obtained from the detection of molecular ions, which can be produced by laser ablation and ionization. Combining MSI with the ability to scan a laser across a sample’s surface led to the capability to achieve images with 10-20 mm resolution. One of the challenges of MSI is to reach a spatial resolution below ~1mm to map the composition of cells and micro-organisms at the sub-cell level.