Microscopes distinguish nano-levels

Domestically manufactured novelty to boast lower price than foreign analogues

By Denis Tupolev

In microelectronics, anything above nano-level (0.13-0.09 microns) is obsolete and uncompetitive. Integral JSC understands this well and has already taken its first steps in nano-technology.

In traditional optical devices, it’s impossible to distinguish details smaller than 0.35 microns. With this in mind, manufacturers of microelectronics are delighted that the State Scientific Production Association of Precise Mechanical Engineering — Planar — has successfully tested a unique scanning probe microscope. Developed by the Design Bureau of Precise Electronic Mechanical Engineering jointly with scientists from the National Academy of Sciences, the device is unique throughout the post-Soviet space. So far, only three countries have produced this high-tech and extremely expensive equipment: the USA, Japan and Germany. These are now joined by Belarus, which aims for its own niche on the global market. Importantly, domestically produced microscopes are to be priced several times cheaper than their foreign rivals. Belarus’ own market is also receiving attention, with the first microscope made in Belarus for Integral’s own use.

The National Academy of Sciences’ chief academic secretary, Sergey Chizhik, is the scientific head of the development. He explains that the principle of atomic force microscopy works as follows: a special console with a very thin needle is placed close to the object of inter-atomic force action. A laser beam probe reacts to the smallest movements, unseen even by the most powerful optical equipment, and this increased volumetric image is recreated on a computer monitor.

If a probe microscope can tackle this task, then do we need ordinary microscope lenses? In fact, we’d fail to find the observation site without one; an operator or an automatic system initially defines the object of study, then scanning by probe begins. Foreign devices lack such a combination of functions — a great advantage of the Belarusian innovation. Moreover, our device can operate with a silicon slab (of 200mm diameter), on which 10,000 micro-circuits can be placed.

The Gomel-based Institute of Mechanics of Metal-Polymeric Systems (of Belarus’ National Academy of Sciences) has greatly contributed to the project, as has Gomel’s Microtestmachines (developing laboratory pro-samples for the atomic force device, methods of use and software). Both have helped create and improve the microscope, which was made in Minsk.

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