Mechanisms of material removal and mass transport in focused ion beam nanopore formation

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Despite the widespread use of focused ion beam (FIB) processing as a material removal method for applications ranging from electron microscope sample preparation to nanopore processing for DNA sequencing, the basic material removal mechanisms of FIB processing are not well understood. We present the first complete atomistic simulation of high-flux FIB using large-scale parallel molecular dynamics (MD) simulations of nanopore fabrication in freestanding thin films. We focus on the root mechanisms of material removal and rearrangement and describe the role of explosive boiling in forming nanopores. FIB nanopore fabrication is typically understood to occur via sputter erosion. This can be shown to be the case in low flux systems, where individual ion impacts are sufficiently separated in time that they may be considered as independent events. But our detailed MD simulations show that in high flux FIB processing, above a threshold level at which thermal effects become significant, the primary mechanism of material removal changes to a significantly accelerated, thermally dominated process. Under these conditions, the target is heated by the ion beam faster than heat is conducted away by the material, leading quickly to melting, and then continued heating to nearly the material critical temperature. This leads to explosive boiling of the target material with spontaneous bubble formation and coalescence. Mass is rapidly rearranged at the atomistic scale, and material removal occurs orders of magnitude faster than would occur by simple sputtering. While the phenomenology is demonstrated computationally in silicon, it can be expected to occur at lower beam fluxes in other cases where thermal conduction is suppressed due to material properties, geometry, or ambient thermal conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number085304
JournalJournal of Applied Physics
Issue number8
StatePublished - Feb 28 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Physics and Astronomy


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