How an electron multiplier works

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This post will explain the basic concept of how an electron multiplier works.

Electron multipliers are used in surface analysis instruments to boost the detected signal to a level where it can be amplified and processed into data. For Auger Electron spectrometers and X-ray photo electron analyzers the detected signal are electrons. Secondary ion spectrometers detect ions.

In the 1960s electron multipliers were made out of a series of Oxygen treated copper beryllium (CuBe) plates.  Copper with 3 to 4% beryllium that is heat treated with oxygen has a secondary electron yield of approximately 3 (varies slightly for kinetic energies between 100 up to 1500V)

The drawing below shows the basic concept.  One electron impacts the first plate and then a few more secondary electrons are generated.  A positive voltage is applied across the multiplier array which is divided by a series of vacuum compatible resistors.  Each plate is progressively more positive and so emitted electrons are attracted to the next plate.  The resulting avalanche of electrons is attracted to the final collector plate where the signal is decoupled from the electron multiplier.  The total number of plates determines the gain of the multiplier. Most of the CuBe electron multipliers used on Auger spectrometers had a gain of 2 X 10E6discrete dynode electron multiplier gain

discrete dynode electron multiplier

When X-ray Electron spectrometers were first developed electron multipliers with higher gains were required in order to achieve better signal to noise.  During that time continuous dynode electron multipliers (Channeltrons) were developed.  Instead of a series of discrete plates, a Channeltron electron multiplier uses a high resistance semiconductor material that also has high secondary electron emissivity.  Gains of a Channeltron are typically 2 X 10E7 to 2 X 10E8. The drawing below shows the gain concept.  Many Channeltrons today are spiral instead of horn shaped to provide an even higher gain.continuous dynode electron multiplier gain

Channeltron multilplier

A third type of electron multiplier, the Micro Channel plate, was developed in order to obtain a larger detector surface area in conjunction with multi-channel detectors. Channel plates are essentially a lot of tiny Channeltron multipliers in parallel. Two plates are stacked on top of each other to increase the gain.  The drawing below shows the gain concept. Channel plate electron multipliers are commonly used on X-ray Photo electron spectrometers.MCD channel plates gain

Micro Channel plates

Electron multipliers typically last for several years with normal usage. With just occasional use they can last for decades.  Eventually the high secondary electron emissivity materials in the multiplier are depleted or the multiplier becomes contaminated and then the signal to noise degrades at which time the multiplier needs to be replaced.

Some additional reference links are listed below.   Most of these refer to ions and mass spectroscopy but it is the same principle for electron based detectors used in Auger Electron and X-ray photo electron spectrometers.

Electron Multipliers are available from these companies –


Scientific Instrument Services

For assistance with installing electron multipliers or channel plates in older Physical Electronics XPS and AES surface analysis instruments contact RBD Instruments, Inc.

Secondary Ion Mass Spectroscopy Tutorial

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SIMS System

The following post is a Secondary Ion Mass Spectroscopy Spectroscopy (SIMS) Tutorial ( PowerPoint in PDF format) complements of Eric Krosche. Although a destructive technique, SIMS is also the most sensitive surface analysis technique with detection limits as low as parts per billion.


Additional SIMS tutorials:

Secondary Ion Mass Spectroscopy Wiki

Eagle Analytical Labs SIMS Theory

Note that the SIMS workshop links list of SIMS systems providers is missing a few companies such as Hiden and Extrel

X-ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy Tutorial

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X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (also known as XPS and originally as ESCA), has become one of the most prevalent and useful techniques for surface analysis since the introduction of commercially available instrumentation beginning in the 1960s.  XPS is a UHV surface analysis technique that provides quantifiable elemental and chemical state information from the top 20 to 100 angstroms of surfaces.

Today’s modern XPS systems use monochromatic aluminum X-rays and include the ability to produce real time XPS elemental images with spatial resolution in the range of a few microns.  If you need an XPS system for your research or production testing and can’t afford the $500K to over $1M for a new XPS system, RBD Instruments is your headquarters for refurbished Physical Electronics XPS systems and components.  Contact us for more information.

Below I have listed a number of links to X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy tutorials. They are in no particular order. Collectively, these tutorials provide an in-depth overview of the history, theory and applications for X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy.

Here is new link to an XPS data knowledge base (and a wealth of information on XPS) from Vincent Crist at The XPS library  –     Please support The XPS Library with your donation!

Physical Electronics XPS system

Physical Electronics XPS system