Thin film analysis in the SEMLayerProbe is an exciting new software tool for thin film analysis in the SEM. An option for the AZtec EDS microanalysis system, LayerProbe is faster, more cost-effective and higher resolution than dedicated thin film measurement tools.

LayerProbe complements the elemental and phase information gained from conventional EDS analysis by also calculating the composition and thickness of the individual layers beneath the surface.

Using a highly focussed electron beam to analyse a sample means the analysis is spatially resolved laterally as well as with depth, therefore nano-scale thin film structures can be measured.


  • Thin film analysis in the SEM
  • Characterises multiple layers beneath surface of the specimen
  • Non-destructive analysis
  • Thickness and composition of multiple layers from 2 nm to 2000 nm
  • Lateral resolution down to 200 nm
  • Easy to set-up for routine user, and a cost effective extension of your SEM or FIB-SEM
  • An extension to AZtecEnergy: seamlessly integrated and easily retrofittable to existing installations

LayerProbe Features


  • The composition and thicknesses of a multi-layered structure are calculated from an EDS measurement of the specimen surface - no need to prepare cross-sections

High spatial resolution

  • LayerProbe is the only high-resolution, nondestructive solution - it accurately characterises features down to 200 nm wide


  • Layer thickness down to the nanometre scale can be measured quickly and accurately. The optimum SEM conditions for best accuracy are suggested during set-up

Cost effective

  • LayerProbe turns your SEM into a high performance thin film and coating analyser. Comparable nondestructive techniques would require considerable additional investment in dedicated equipment

Suitable for metallic layers

  • With this X-ray based technique, metallic films can be measured at thicknesses far beyond their optical transparency.
  • The excellent low energy sensitivity of our latest generation SDD detector, X-MaxN, makes it possible to measure oxide formation on metals down to 1 nm thickness

LayerProbe Applications

LayerProbe is ideal for a wide range of applications, including back- and front-end chip manufacturing, semiconductor R&D, optical and industrial coatings, nanoelectronic devices...


Measuring layer thicknesses of a semiconductor in the SEMSemiconductor R&D

  • Measure thickness and composition of metallisation and dielectric layers
  • Accurately characterise oxide formation on bond pads (e.g. Cu oxide on Cu)
  • Optimise thin film deposition processes (CVD, ALD, sputtering, evaporation)

Solar cells

  • Characterise active layers in thin film solar cells (CIGS, CdTe)
  • Optimise TCO layer thickness and uniformity
  • Characterise anti-reflection coating thickness and composition

Optical Coatings

  • Optimise the colour and transparency of optical coatings by accurately determining the film thickness and composition
  • Compositional measurement uncovers non-uniformities not seen in conventional thickness measurements

Industrial Coatings

  • Suitable for decorative and structural coatings
  • Uncover and accurately characterise sub-surface defects with minimal sample preparation


  • Measure uniformity of nanoparticle coatings
  • Characterise contacts to nano-devices
  • Relate device performance and structure using nondestructive layer measurements

LayerProbe and the FIB

FIB imageLayerProbe provides a new way to quantify TEM lamella thickness and quality in situ - as well as a complimentary technique to the cross-sectional analysis of layered specimens on FIB-SEMs.

  • LayerProbe takes only seconds to characterise the lamella thickness and to detect and measure any implanted Gallium
  • Its precise thickness measurement enables faster preparation of high-quality, ultra-thin lamellae
  • Sub-surface defects are pinpointed to identify locations where to cut with the FIB-SEM
  • LayerProbe can also characterise and optimise the quality of layers deposited or processed in the FIB using gas assisted deposition and etching

A comparison with established methods

LayerProbe is based on proven technology and has significant benefits compared to alternative techniques:

A comparison of LayerProbe with other techniques
  LayerProbe Ellipsometry XRF FIB/TEM RBS
Non-destructive Yes Yes Yes No Yes
High spatial resolution Yes

(>> 1 micron)

(> 1 micron)
Yes Yes
Rapid analysis Yes
(a matter of minutes: each point takes seconds)
Yes Yes No (several hours) No
Cost Relatively inexpensive Expensive Expensive Very expensive

Extremely expensive


How accurate is LayerProbe?

Comparison of ALD layers on silicon substrate
Thickness (nm)
Thickness (nm)
Refractive Index
HfO2 28.1 ± 0.1 9.4 33.6 ± 5 2.04
Al2O3 57.0 ± 0.2 3.0 52.8 ± 5 1.64


LayerProbe EDS and RBS composition measurement
  LayerProbe –
Stoichiometric Ratio
Stoichiometric Ratio
Hf /O 2.13 2.07
Al /O 1.56 1.60


Example: PCB Application - Au on Ni on Si substrate


LayerProbe and XRF thickness measurement
Thickness (nm)
Density (gcm-3) XRF
Thickness (nm)
Au 60.1 ± 0.7 19.3 61 ± 25
Ni 123.5 ± 0.7 8.9 141 ± 24

SEM cross section measurement confirms the result...Example of thin film analysis

LayerProbe brochure and Application Notes

LayerProbe Brochure

This 8 page brochure shows the features, benefits and operating principles of LayerProbe - and the many applications it is applied to.

PDF 1002KB
High quality TEM lamella preparation

High-resolution TEM image quality is greatly impacted by the thickness of the TEM sample (lamella) and the presence of any surface damage layer created during FIB-SEM sample preparation. Here we present a new technique that enables measurement of the local thickness and composition of TEM lamellae and
discuss its application to the failure analysis of semiconductor devices.

PDF 4.77MB
Analysis of Thin Layers on Flexible Materials

Research and development of electronic circuitry mounted on plastic substrates is gathering pace. In order to assess the structural properties of the electronic components, they have to be analysed while on the plastic substrate without compromising their structural integrity. LayerProbe enables the analyst to separate the contributions of the substrate and the structures and enables measurements of the thickness and composition at high resolution and in a non-destructive manner.

PDF 2.38MB
LayerProbe Application Note - Photovoltaic Cells

Photovoltaic (PV) cells are an attractive option for generating low carbon renewable energy but traditional designs often include undesirable toxic compounds and must be manufactured under special conditions. The all-oxide approach to photovoltaic cells is thus very attractive as it circumvents many of these issues and offers a potential method of creating a lower cost, more widely used product. AZtec LayerProbe was used to characterise a combinatorial library sample with varying layer thicknesses and compositions in order to determine which combination is most effective.

PDF 1.15MB

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Product Support

Maintenance and Support

Maintenance and Support

Oxford Instruments takes pride in the support and service that we provide. Whether your requirements are general or specific, regional or national, local or international, we can tailor a package specifically for you.

AZtecEnergy Training Courses

AZtecEnergy Training Courses

Everything you need to know to become an expert in EDS analysis using the AZtecEnergy system. How to choose operating conditions, acquire, interpret and process data. Each delegate has sufficient 'hands-on' practice live on the SEM.