High-speed Support Improved in Latest Actuel Release (1.7) for the 9103 Picoammeter

RBD has released Actuel version 1.7 for the 9103 Picoammeter, with improvements for high-speed data acquisition and (especially) data logging and graphing.

The latest version can be found here.

If you do not have a high-speed 9103 Picoammeter and are already running Actuel version 1.6, there no reason to download the latest version. However, high-speed users will find a number of improvements.

Oscilloscope emulation

Although Actuel was not designed to have an oscilloscope emulation (with features such as triggering), at higher speeds you can come close to emulating scope current monitoring.

In the Data Window, click the Show Options button and select “Last” from the Graph Options. You can scroll in increments as low as 0.1 second, but you can type in a smaller increment, such as “0.05” in order to display at higher resolution.

Last time option in Actuel
Using the “Last” time option in Actuel

(Note: The graph display options can get out of sync with data collection if you change and option when recording or after stopping and clearing data – it may be necessary to re-enter the value or reset recording. We’re working to make this smoother in the next version.)

For smoother real-time graphing, use standard-speed at 25 mS unless faster rates are needed

The 9103 can run as fast as 25 mS per sample in standard-speed mode, and 2 mS per sample in high-speed. In order to optimize faster data acquisition in high-speed mode, the 9103 collects 10 samples per message, as opposed to 1.

However, note that if you are collecting data at 25 mS in Standard-speed, your PC will be updated with new data every 25 mS. In High-speed, you’ll be updated every 250 mS.

For that reason, the Acutel software always collects data in standard-speed mode at 25 mS and above, regardless of the high-speed mode settings. It is recommended you do the same if you are writing your own software to control the 9103.

That also means that for real-time graphing, you may not want to sample at a rate of, for example, 24 mS, if you can achieve the same results at 25 mS. At faster rates, the delay in caused by receiving 10 samples per message is less noticeable, but it’s visible at rates of 20 mS- 25 mS if you are graphing only the latest points in relatively high resolution:

Actuel 25 mS Standard Speed

Actuel – 25 mS Standard Speed

Actuel 25 mS High Speed

Actuel – 24 mS High Speed

Putting Together a Compact UHV (Ultra-high Vacuum) Chamber for Spectroscopy

Small, inexpensive UHV chambers have been the backbone of many commercial labs and universities for decades. The cost of larger, feature-rich systems has gone up dramatically in recent years, making compact, DIY chambers even more cost-effective for specialized applications and education.

RBD has a range of products available to add value to your compact chamber, and in fact built our own recently to develop and test our microCMA compact Auger analyzer.

RBD Kimball Chamber
Kimball Physics chamber with RBD miniZ, IG2, and microCMA compact Auger analyzer

The Chamber

We started with an 8 inch spherical octagon chamber from Kimball Physics. This chamber has two 8.00″ CF and eight 2.75″ CF mounts, with an internal volume of  106.6 cu. in. (1,747 cc):

Kimball Physics Chamber
Kimball Physics 8.0″ Spherical Octagon – Vacuum Chamber

The vacuum chamber was fitted with an ion pump from Gamma Vacuum, and valves and windows from MDC. Affordable turbo pumps can be sourced from Pfeiffer (HiCube 80 Eco) and Edwards (nEXT85).

Rough vacuum gauges are available from a number of companies including Digivac.

Rough Vacuum Gauge
Rough vacuum gauge

Ion gauges and ion gauge controllers are available from a number of companies including Stanford Research Systems

Ion Gauge Controller
Ion gauge controller


To assist with water vapor desorption, the chamber is fitted with RBD’s miniZ. The mini-Z uses UVC radiation to desorb water from the chamber walls, resulting in faster pump-down times and lower ultimate vacuum.

RBD miniZ
RBD miniZ water vapor desorption system

This chamber is also fitted with RBD’s IG2 2 kV low cost sputter ion gun for specimen cleaning:


The ultimate purpose of this system was to house RBD’s microCMA compact Auger analyzer (shown below with the Z translator attached):

RBD microCMA
RBD’s microCMA compact Auger Analyzer

For applications that require elemental analysis, this chamber, with the addition of a PC and CMapp AES acquisition and data massage software, is now a complete system providing quantitative, surface-sensitive Auger electron spectroscopy. At around $50,000 for all the components listed here, this is one example of a budget-sensitive spectroscopy system that can be assembled, repaired and upgraded without costly field service visits.

microCMA Software Update – New Features for Auger Multiplexes

This past year there have been a number of new features added to CMapp – the application software for the microCMA. Most of these provide you with improved (and safer) control of your microCMA hardware. For example, there’s is now a “Dynamic Mode” feature that assists in automatically conditioning the multiplier.

The most significant addition to the CMapp software is the Multiplex Survey Region View.

Earlier versions of CMapp – like its AugerScan cousin – displayed Multiplex data in two ways – either individual survey region windows, or a bar graph representing the peak-to-peak or atomic concentration (a.c.) data.

The most recent version of CMapp (0.4) has an additional view, which displays the survey region data in one graph of kinetic energy vs. counts or concentration. It’s now much easier to visualize all of the survey data in one window. Additionally, the graph updates in real-time while acquiring, much like a single survey.

CMapp Mutiplex By Energy
Multiplex Region View (legend ordered by energy)

This latest feature was actually added to CMapp in a recent previous version, but we’ve updated it to provide the option to order data legend and atomic concentration table by energy, alphabetically, by descending atomic concentration, or by the order the regions were added to the acquisition.

CMapp Mutiplex By Energy
Multiplex Region View (legend ordered by atomic concentration)

You can change the order of regions in the legend (and in the optional atomic concentration annotation) in the View menu – choose the Options command, Graph tab:

CMapp View Options - Graph
CMapp View Options Dialog – Multiplex Legend Options

You can find more information about RBD’s microCMA and download the latest version of CMapp here.

We’ll be soon be updating our YouTube channel with more microCMA tutorial videos to help you get the most out of your compact Auger analyzer and CMapp software.