“Bulk Micro Defects” (BMD) is a term commonly used to refer to oxygen precipitates in silicon. In fact, many imperfections in the silicon lattice create defects, and BMDs could be any imperfections including oxygen precipitates, voids, inclusions and so on. 

BMDs go by many names, referring to the problems they cause, how they were created, or their physical characteristics. Examples include COPs (Crystal Originated Particles) and Grown-In Defects.

Dislocations can be formed during crystal growth, but also at thermal processing of wafers, during CMOS device manufacturing, like epitaxial layer growth and implant anneal steps.

Figure 1. Bulk Micro Defects

Imperfections in the lattice of a semiconductor and impurities create energy states in the bandgap, decrease carrier lifetime, and increase junction leakage. They also act as gettering sites, at which impurities tend to concentrate. The profile of the BMDs is often controlled as shown in Figure 1. by a complex series of high temperature processes to create a “denuded zone”. By this, the surface layer silicon, where the MOS transistor action takes place is free of oxygen precipitates, and the oxygen precipitates in the underlying silicon act as a gettering site to keep impurities away from the MOS transistors.

IR light penetrates most semiconductor materials, and since BMDs alter the local optical properties of a semiconductor, BMDs can be detected by illuminating a sample with IR light and looking at it with a camera that is sensitive to IR.





The maximum obtainable magnification with a conventional optical microscope is approximately 800-1000×, because of the nature of light. For further magnification Scanning Electron Microscopes (SEMs) are used, and among these, the Transmission Electron Microscopes (TEMs) can show single atoms and thus provide the highest possible magnification. Why then do we have the Scanning Probe Microscope, SPM as yet another type of microscope?

One of the reasons is that a sample to be examined in a transmission electron microscope must be sliced thinly and thus becomes ruined. The SPM technique images surface structures with atomic (height) resolution without the necessity of damaging the sample. A further reason is the kind of imaging offered by SPM microscopes, the results are shown as a kind of three-dimensional image (also in cases where only two-dimensional information is evaluated). As this is the case with an optical microscope, it is very difficult to investigate the surface structure of a sample with an electron microscope. In order to measure a surface profile with the highest resolution, it is necessary to slice the sample. Moreover, an SPM operates without vacuum, and unlike to an electron and optical microscopes it can measure other physical effects. This includes electrical properties, such as Kelvin probe force microscopy (KPM / KPFM) or magnetic properties (Magnetic force microscopy, MFM).

Figure 2. Spectral range




The most basic AFM operation mode is the so-called DC or contact mode. The most basic AFM operation mode is the so-called DC, or contact mode. A force is applied to the cantilever (sensing) tip, when the cantilever and the sample surface are close to each other. This leads to the bending of the cantilever, which changes the reflectance angle of the detection laser. The deflection of the laser is measured by a position-sensitive photo detector. When the cantilever is moved towards the sample during the approach, attractive forces are applied to the cantilever. These negative forces can be used to perform a surface scan.


Figure 3. DC MODE


Figure 4. AC MODE


In order to prevent the cantilever from damages, most AFM microscopes are usually operated in the so-called AC mode instead of DC mode. In this mode, a very low force is used during the scanning, and a very little interaction occurs between the surface and the cantilever, without loosing resolution.
The cantilever is permanently vibrated with its resonance frequency. This oscillation leads to a periodic bending of the cantilever, which is measured by a reflected laser beam like in DC mode. When the cantilever is close to the surface and interacts with the surface atoms, the resonance frequency changes. (The resonance frequency increases, when the cantilever reaches the surface.) This leads to the dampening of the amplitude and the phase change of the cantilever oscillation. The tip-sample interaction force and the dampening of the cantilever oscillation are approximately proportional when the tip is close to the sample.

AC mode works with less interaction force, than DC mode, and has some advantages:

  • The surface itself is much less influenced by the measurement, because of the low interaction forces.
  • Due to the lower forces, a single cantilever can normally be used for a larger number of images.
  • Fragile samples, which would be destroyed in a DC measurement can be imaged in AC mode.
  • The relation phase shift / damping is characteristic for the surface material, therefore more information can be gained from this operation mode



To be able to detect magnetic forces, one has to use a cantilever, which is covered with a magnetic coating. Standard MFM tips have a magnetic coating with a relatively large thickness of around 40 nm. The high thickness results a much longer tip radius of around 50 nm, which is much larger than the conventional AFM tips. With these standard tips, one can obtain lateral magnetic resolutions of about 100 nm. So the magnetic resolution is much less, than the resolution, which can commonly be expected from AFM topography measurements, which are a factor of 10 better.

When the MFM tip is close to the sample, mechanical force, as well as magnetic force contribute to the force that is measured by the cantilever. The magnetic force is much smaller than the mechanical force, but is effective over a long distance. To separate the two force sources, the MFM force must be measured at a certain distance from the sample surface, where the contribution from the mechanical force can be neglected.

Figure 5. MFM


Figure 6. KPFM


This mode is a method to determine the chemical potential between a cantilever and a sample surface, and therefore gain information about the material and its state on a sample surface. The basic setup for a KPFM measurement is shown on Figure 6. The sample is electrically connected to the output of a frequency generator. This creates an oscillating electrical field between the cantilever and the sample, which can be measured by the position sensor of the AFM. This detected signal is then fed into a lock-in amplifier and its output is led into an integrator. The result is then added as a constant offset to the oscillation, which is applied on the sample. This acts as a feedback loop, which minimizes the electrically-induced cantilever oscillation.



This method is used to determine the relative changes of majority carrier concentration of flat semiconductor surfaces. The capacity measurement is done quite similar to the KPFM measurement. You can use the same measurement setup. The main differences are that the output is coming from the lock-in amplifier, not from the feedback signal, so one uses the force component F2ω, described above at KPFM, which is proportional to the capacity C between tip and sample surface.

The capacity measurement also results in relative information about the capacity. The absolute capacity between tip and a conducting sample is in the range of aF (atto farad = 10^-18 farad) where the capacity between cantilever body and sample is in the range of fF (femto farad = 10^-15 farad). These small dimensions and the large offset show that a direct measurement of the capacity is nearly impossible and also there, only relative values can be obtained.



A KPFM measurement of the electrostatic force without a nulling feedback regulator is called EFM, electrostatic force measurement. Here, the feedback regulator is left out and the output of a lock-in amplifier is directly monitored. This measurement shows, as seen in the equation Fω derived above for KPFM, a mixture of different information and is influenced by the chemical potential, the oscillation voltages, the capacity etc. Therefore the EFM method is less useful for determining physical properties than the KFPM method.



The STM mode has the most simple principle and works only with conducting samples. A metall tip perpendicular to the sample surface is used instead of a cantilever. The tip as well as the sample are connected to a voltage supply. Now the STM tip is brought so close to the sample that a current flows, a so-called tunnel current. There is an exponential connection between the tip to sample distance and the current flow.
There are two variations for scanning: In the constant height mode, the height of the tip and the voltage is kept constant, while the tunneling current changes. For an images, this changes are translated to topography information. In the constant current or feedback mode, the tip is moved up and down to maintain a constant tunnel current, thereby the tip is moving in a constant distance to the surface. The necessary up and down movements of the tip are electronically recorded and can be displayed as an topography image.

Even though this principle is very simple, it instantly delivers the maximum possible magnification and allows the investigation and manipulation of individual atoms. The reason for this is a kind of self-focusing effect: The tunnel current responsible for the imaging already flows over the atom on the tip which is closest to the sample surface. So even when using a tip cut just by an ordinary pair of pincers one quite often gets atomic resolution.

The voltages used for STM measurements are normally below 1 V, since the electric field between sample and tip created by the fine tip is very large. An applied voltage of 5 V already results in a strong electric field causing a displacement of the tip and the sample surface. Actually, a 5 V pulse is often used for "cleaning" the tip.
The tunnel currents are on the nA scale, and the distance between tip and sample are in the order of magnitude of a few nm. STM measurements require that the sample surface is atomically "clean". In air, it is only possible to obtain atomic resolution for certain samples. The easiest atomic grid to observe is that of an HOPG sample (Highly Oriented Pyrolytic Graphite) since the top layer from such a sample can be removed by means of a piece of adhesive tape, revealing for a short time an atomically "clean" surface. Therefore, such samples are often used as test structures for STM microscopes; all DME STMs are tested for atomic resolution with a HOPG sample as a part of our internal certificate of complience (CoC) test.
The STM scanning is very fast; for atomic resolution images you can usually achieve a scan rate of multiple images per second. 


Figure 7. STM MODE



In this method also an conductive probe is used. Operating in DC mode, an DC bias is applied and the electric current between the tip and the sample is measured. The resulting resistance is caused by the spreading resistance and resistivity of the sample which also give information about the carrier distribution.

Note, that you have to scratch the surface of the sample with the tip to get a better electrical contact.



Figure 8. SSRM MODE


SPM litography example Figrue 9. Lithopgraphy example (1)

SPM lithography example 2Figure 10. Lithopgraphy example (2)


The typical radius of SPM sensors is in the order of 10 nm. So it is possible to perform lithography on a scale of only a few nanometers.
Doing a lithography means that physical or chemical properties of a sample's surface are being changed. This can be done in three different ways:

  1. exposing the sample with light or electrons,
  2. applying high pressures (scratching),
  3. applying electrical fields.
Whereas (1) is done by classical light or e-beam lithography, methods (2) and (3) can be performed by an SPM.

The main idea of the SPM program lithography function is to transfer the information of a bitmap via physical properties like a force, a voltage or a current to the surface. Depending in which mode (AFM-AC, AFM-DC, STM) the SPM is running, the physical property can be a bias or a current (STM), a force variation (AFM) or voltage at the auxiliary port of the controller (all modes). The Aux voltage can be converted into many other physical properties using external equipment.

Assume the surface of an AFM tip to about 100 nm2. If a tip with a force constant of 50 N/m is pressed 200 nm towards the surface, the resulting force equals about 10-5 N. The pressure applied to the surface is of about 100 GPa. This means that on almost any surface softer than the silicon tip, patterns may be scratched into the surface.


For more information read about the Scanning Probe Microscopy technology and  about application examples.



Almost all Scanning Probe Microscopes are capable of resolving atomic height steps.

  • Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) can reach a lateral atomic resolution.
  • AFM with lateral atomic resolution is only used for special cases, where achieving a lateral atomic resolution is more important than the loss of flexibility, brought on by the higher stability of the total set-up.
  • Normal AFMs are designed for relatively large scan areas and the scanner stages allow investigation of many different sample types and sizes.
  • Scanning Tunneling Microscopy (STM) has the advantage that the tunnel current always flows directly over the next atom on the sample surface. This kind of "self-focusing" does not occur with an AFM.
  • STM is often used in ultra-high vacuum so that a prepared sample surface may remain uninfluenced for a longer time.
  • STM is usually integrated into a highly stable scan platform.


Product Line

Semilab AFM Proberstation Series

With the Semilab AFM Proberstation series, we provide the ultimate unification of ease of use and performance. Decade-lasting experience in the Scanning Probe Microscopy application field and manufacturing are united in the Semilab AFM scanners to help the user achieve the best and most reliable results in the shortest possible period of time. The compact design of the Semilab AFM scanner guarantees outstanding stability and scan rates. The unique plug and play cantilever exchange secures the fast and safe operation of the instrument. An integrated optical axis in the AFM scanner provides total visual control during approach and positioning. The Semilab AFM scanner provides the facilities for all common and advanced AFM modes. The integrated electronics in the scan head guarantee the lowest noise values in electrical AFM modes. Semilab AFM Proberstation series allows the installation of the Semilab AFM scanner into the stages and other facilities, like nanoindenters or optical microscopes.


Atomic Force Microscope - Proberstation 1000

The Atomic Force Microscope - Proberstation 1000 provides the possibility of investigating nearly all samples by Scanning Probe Microscopy. From a splitter of a coated wafer to a whole nano-coated surgical implant, the compact granite stage will surprise with its flexibilty.
Thereby, the design makes no compromises concerning stability.

Scanning atomic layers on a standrand writing desk is possible. The open tip scanner design gives room for free sample access and variety of selectable XY translators and special measurement stages as a temperature control stage or liquide cell. For exotically shaped sample we can provide customised illumination, sample stages and sample holder for request.

This small granite stage is an ultimate AFM work horse with unlimited upgrade abilities.

High Performance:

  • Lowest noise
  • All AFM modes available
  • High resolution digital CCD camera for visual control

Ease of use:

  • Plug and play cantilever exchange
  • Free sidewise access to sample 
  • Rigid railmount with manual Z sample height adjustment


  • AFM tip scanner setup for wide scanning range
  • Sample size up to 70 mm


  • Large possibility of add-ons and accessories
  • Customer-specified modifications


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Atomic Force Microscope - AFM-2000 is an automated high-end Scanning Probe Microscopy platform for large samples.

Its long range XY translators allow the investigation of up to 300 mm samples and fragments at all positions. The fully programmable sample positioning enables autonomous AFM measurements on multiple sample positions with automatic image analysis and automatic report generation. The combination with high end optics enable on automated preselection of sample sites for SPM investigation.

Thereby the Semilab AFM-2000 setup is the optimal solution for industry quality maintenance application and R&D environments. 

High performance:

  • Lowest noise
  • High precision stage, high precision motors and optical reference feedback system
  • Acoustic enclosure
  • Camera system for visualization of the scan area.

Ease of use:

  • Cantilever exchange
  • Full automation capability with in-built active vibration isolation


  • Automated tip exchange
  • Sample size up to 300 mm


  • Offers flexibility with AFM tip scanner setup for a wide scanning range.
  • Customer-specified modifications
  • Combination with other analytical heads

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AFM-3000 is the newest addition to the Semilab AFM family, offering a fully automated solution for 3D nano-imaging and defect inspection of wafers. This robust machine adheres to industrial standards for micro and nano-topology measurements and features a modern platform.

The Semilab AFM-3000 system is designed for various applications, including:

  1. Particle Inspection:

    • Precise defect localization using the light scattering method (μPIT) based on imported KLARF files.
    • Defect inspection using a high-resolution AFM scanner.
  2. CMP Process Control:

    • Consistent and highly reproducible roughness characterization for quality control of semiconductor wafers up to 12" (300 mm).
  3. Critical Dimension AFM:

    • Provides detailed 3D sample surface information on micro and nano scales.
    • Suitable for silicon and non-silicon wafers, thin films, and surfaces with nanotopography.

Key Features:

  • Provides high-resolution, sub-atomic precision measurements with extremely low noise levels.
  • Ensures stable and accurate performance in a customizable, user-friendly environment.
  • Offers vibration isolation and supports variable cantilever types with outstanding scan rates.
  • Equipped with a wafer contour meter for repeatable and precise alignment.
  • Includes a full wafer AFM profilometer mode.
  • Optional features such as
    • defect review capability, combining high-resolution AFM measurement with micro-particle inspection metrology (µPIT) for immediate defect determination.
    • pattern recognition,
    • cantilever exchange with tip qualification (up to 10,000 tip exchanges without failure), and
    • environmental control module.
  • Offers flexibility with AFM tip scanner setup for a wide scanning range.
  • Accommodates sample sizes up to 300 mm.

The AFM-3000 is ideal for various industry quality control applications, including:

  • Wafer makers and device makers in the semiconductor industry for quality inspection.
  • Roughness measurement of samples after CMP (Chemical Mechanical Polishing).
  • Defect inspection and localization.
  • Research centers involved in nano-imaging and defect inspection.

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AFM Objective for optical Microscopes

Upgrade your light microscope to subatomic resolution with AFM Objective: the 15x objective which delivers nanometer resolution and 3D topography. 

The AFM Objective in your optical microscope is the ticked for the world behind the defraction limit. The resolution is pushed far below sub-wavelength range to only a few nanometer or less. Additionally you benefit from the 3D topograpical data with a better resolution than CLSM ans STED microscopy.
Nano-manipulation and nano-lithography combined with the optical facilities of your microscope build a powerful combination. Because of the Semilab adaptor concept for the AFM Objective, the integration in all known microscope brands is possible.

Unchanged operation of hte light microscope with all its facilities is ensured.
Main application areas are microelectronics, material and biological sciences, etc.

High Performance:

  • Lowest noise
  • All AFM modes available
  • Infinitive corrected optics ensure excellent optical overview

Ease of use:

  • Plug and play cantilever exchange


  • AFM tip scanner setup for wide scanning range
  • All illumination facilities of the optical microscope can be used


  • Available for all microscopes capable of handling long working distance objective

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