This invention has application to research and commercial entities that use scanning electron microscopes (SEMs), focused ion beams (FIBs), glove-boxes, or other vacuum based instruments for studying battery materials, semiconductor processing, or nano-materials.
Effective transfer of air-sensitive samples between imaging equipment continues to prove challenging for laboratory environments. Exposure to air, water vapor, and other contaminants during in-lab transport of a sample can damage surface features to the point of destruction or can otherwise hinder high-resolution sample analysis. While machine-specific systems to isolate an air-sensitive sample and prevent corrosion during transfer do exist, these existing solutions lack the necessary design features required for effective, low-profile, and reliable use. The inventors describe a self-actuating transfer box that combines all of the features necessary for effective transfer while also being compatible with many SEMs, FIBs, and other advanced microscopy equipment.
This invention uses a flexural bearing mechanism that allows for effective transport of samples between equipment without exposure to air. The design for the Sample Transfer Flexure Box (STFB) employs a double-acting piston opposed by an array of 4 parallel 3-stage blade flexures. This flexure design model enables the system to reseal itself for operation under vacuum conditions with minimal parasitic loading after repeatable motion.
Key functional requirements that the STFB delivers on include: open in small headspaces, exposure to a SEM pin and TEM grid, maintain air-tight seal, open for imaging, close after work, fit in SEMs and FIBs, not damage equipment, and work repeatedly. These requirements and design features result in an effective, reliable transfer system that can withstand frequent use and that can compatibly serve with other scientific imaging equipment such as SEMs and FIBs for analysis of air-sensitive samples.
- Compatible with different instruments such as a FIB or SEM
- Scalable design for use in a variety of settings with tradeoffs in complexity e.g. further reductions in parasitic loading and device size possible with 4 serial flexures instead of 3