RBS is one of the standard ion beam analysis techniques to determine fully quantitative depth profiles of the elemental composition of a sample surface. It relies on the fact that the energy of a backscattered light particle is a function of the mass of the sample atom. Depth information is gained via the energy loss of the ions on their way through the material. In standard RBS 2 MeV He ions are used as projectiles and backscattered particles are detected with a silicon detector. A measurement is simple and takes only minutes of accelerator beam time.
For special applications the energy of the projectile and the projectile type can be varied. All elements from Be to U can be detected. Detection limits depend on the sample composition and are orders of magnitude better for heavy elements than for light elements such as oxygen. Limits for detection of surface contaminants can be as low as 10-4 monolayers. Depending on the material and experimental conditions the depth resolution of concentration profiles is between 0.5 and 10 nm close to the sample surface. The accessible depth is a few microns. In favorable cases the composition of thin layers can be determined with an accuracy of less than 1%. For bulk materials the accuracy is 3 to 4 %. The layer thickness can be determined with the same accuracy.
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