Microanalysis and Microscopy: Applications

Particle Sizing and Identification

Identification of unknown particles and determining the size range and distribution of particles can be critical to environmental assessment, hazard remediation, compliance with environmental regulations, product quality, cleanliness of cleanroom technology, and formulation assessment. Our scientists have years of experience in analysis of fine particles, including the latest in nanotechnology applications. Samples can be analyzed by optical microscopy, electron microscopy, and by various chemical/spectroscopic methods to identify, document, and micrograph the particles present.

In many new areas of technology, the size of particles manufactured is critical in order to optimize surface area. We have helped scientists working in the area of fuel desorption by analyzing, imaging, and sizing the particles used to remove sulfur from fuel sources.

Contact: Analytical Sciences Team

Materials Characterization and Contaminant Analysis

Identification of contaminating influences is a critical matter to many industries. RTI has the capability to isolate and identify contaminants in a variety of samples, from particulate matter in pharmaceuticals to thin organic films on semiconductor surfaces. Samples can be prepared to reveal surface characteristics or internal structure. Surface and internal defects can also be isolated, characterized, identified, and micrographed. Essentially any type of sample can be analyzed, including ceramics, metals, alloys, biological material, plastic, microelectronics, nanoparticles, rubber, food, polymers, fabrics, and papers. Our wide array of complementary laboratory technologies allows RTI to triangulate on a problem and deliver solutions.

RTI has helped numerous clients with contamination problems. One example was identifying foreign particles in a pharmaceutical product as stainless steel, and matching the steel composition to a specific piece of equipment in their manufacturing process which was degrading and contaminating the drug.

Contact: Analytical Sciences Team

Surface Measurement and Force Measurement

We possess both microscopic and spectroscopic characterization capabilities for materials surface analysis. Using microscopic techniques such as SEM-EDX, AFM, and optical microscopy plus spectroscopic techniques such as XPS and FT-infrared reflective spectroscopy, we can obtain high-resolution images and information on surface roughness and porosity, surface metal composition, and organic coating species and contaminations.

Recently, our scientists assisted a company that produces lithoplates by helping them determine the cause of tiny imperfections in their plates that had rendered them unusable for printing. We can also support exposure science and drug delivery research using force measurement capabilities to study particle-substrate interaction at nano-Newton levels.

Contact: Li Han

Semiconductor Analysis

We have an extremely comprehensive semiconductor analysis facility. From ion milling, which is used to reveal inner structures, to thin-film analysis on semiconductor surfaces, we have the tools to find the answers to problems with semiconductors, metal substrates, thin films, multilayer samples, and coatings. All semiconductor processes, including surface processes, film growth, bonding, and surface cleaning and etching can be fully analyzed.

In the development of 3D circuit technologies, the development of interconnections between the stacked circuitry is critical. Connecting vias (tiny microcircuitry holes filled with conducting material) ranging in size from hundreds of microns to less than 10 microns are routinely analyzed by our scientists. The vias are cross-sectioned to reveal problems with insulating and conducting thin films.

Contact: Dana Fox

Nanostructured Materials

The relatively new field of nanotechnology pushes the envelope of microscopic analysis because the structures are so small (from 500 nanometers to 1 nanometer). In addition to being small, most nanostructures have very low molecular weight, rendering them almost invisible. The AFM is an ideal instrument for examining nanostructures because it has extremely high resolution and can analyze low molecular weight structures. RTI is experienced in determining and imaging the structure of the tiny particles in this rapidly expanding and critically important field.

Our microanalysts have assisted numerous developmental projects by applying innovative sample preparation and imaging methods.

Contact: Lynn Davis


Our optical microscopy laboratory has the instrumentation and expertise vital to perform quality petrographic analyses of rock samples in thin section. Our geologists have over 25 years of experience in the fields of optical microscopy and petrography. Our expertise combined with state-of-the-art optical microscopes with digital photomicrography capability result in the production of thorough, accurate, and informative analyses. Analytical reports include micrographs of the rock samples along with descriptions of rock textures, grain sizes, mineral composition, and percentages. The emphasis of each petrographic analysis can be tailored to the client's specific area of interest.

In California, the presence of naturally occurring asbestos in rock and soil has become a sensitive environmental issue. Our researchers have used petrographic analysis of core samples to determine the likelihood that asbestos will be encountered in quarrystone.

Contact: Lisa Greene

PM Monitoring Support and Gravimetry

Determination of the mass concentration of particulate matter (PM) in ambient and indoor air is a vital first step in chemical speciation of airborne pollutants for exposure assessment, health effects research, and source apportionment. Gravimetric and chemical analysis of filter-based PM samples can also be critical to the NSR construction permitting process, including PSD monitoring.

We have controlled environment chambers for the conditioning and microgravimetric weight determinations necessary to fulfill stringent FRM requirements. Our scientists have supported client operators in both small monitoring projects and large networks, and routinely collaborate with clients to establish sample analysis protocols after mass determination, including ions analysis, elemental analysis by XRF, and trace metals analysis for air toxics.

Environmental scanning electron microscopy (ESEM) is capable of providing imaging and elemental analysis of PM particles. Much can be inferred about the particles by other analytical methods, but only ESEM has the capability and resolution to reveal the relative abundance of various types of particles and their actual morphology, size, degree of aggregation, and individual elemental composition.

Contact: Lisa Greene