Getting The Low-Down On Surfaces

October 01, 1998

Scanning Probe Microscopes can now be used to discover the detailed structure and properties of a material thanks to new techniques developed by the University of Loughborough and Topometrix Corporation. By using specially constructed probes, scientists can examine any material's surface, look for contaminants and identify the component parts of the material. This will give a valuable insight into the structure of new materials and will also help maintain quality control in the production of, for example, paracetamol tablets.

The thermal properties of a substance, such as the temperature at which it melts, can be uncovered by using a probe that acts as a heat source for melting and a thermal sensor to measure temperature simultaneously. The probe only melts a tiny amount of material allowing samples to be sent for bulk testing as well. Differences in the conductivity and diffusivity, also detectable by the probe, can be used to identify low concentration species, such as impurities, on the surface that cannot be detected using bulk thermal methods.

The other innovative probe measures the topography, local stiffness and adhesion at points on the surface of the material to build up a picture of how the material behaves. This process can be used to identify components in polymers, coatings and composites and can be used in liquids to characterise biocompatible materials and cell structures.

For further information or a full copy of the article please contact Andrew McLaughlin on tel: 0171 451 7395; fax: 0171 839 2289 or email:

Notes for Editors

1. Materials World is the journal of the Institute of Materials, the professional body of more than 18,000 materials scientists and engineers throughout Europe.
2. The journal is distributed to all of the Institute's members who work in areas such as plastics, rubber, steel, metals and ceramics.
3. Materials World is also available on the web:
4. For further information please contact Andrew McLaughlin to arrange an interview.

Institute of Materials

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