Atom probe tomography (APT) offers the enticing prospect of being able to determine the identity and position of nearly every atom in a material, providing the ultimate in elemental analysis. The technique involves applying either ultra-fast voltage pulses or laser pulses to a needle-shaped sample, stripping away atoms located at the tip of the needle and converting them into charged ions. These ions are then accelerated by an electric field towards a position-sensitive detector that registers the time it takes each ion to travel from the sample to the detection system, as well as its impact position. From this information, the identity and original position of the atoms making up the sample can be determined.
This Essential Knowledge Briefing aims to provide a simple introduction to APT, detailing some of its specific implementations, discussing problems that can arise and exploring the developments that are likely to be seen with this technique in the future.