Detection of photons emitted from single erbium atoms in energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy

Abstract

The detection of photons emitted from single quantum objects is highly desirable for the diagnosis of nanoscale devices using microscopes. An extremely tiny probe (0.1 nm) with high current recently became available for aberration-corrected scanning transmission electron microscopy, and it is possible for individual atoms in nanoscale devices to be excited using such a highly focused probe1,2,3. Here, we demonstrate the successful detection of characteristic X-ray signals from single erbium atoms using energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy. The intensities of the erbium L and M lines from a single erbium atom were extremely weak in comparison to the N edge of electron energy-loss spectroscopy, demonstrating the intrinsic difficulty in sensing single atoms using X-ray spectroscopy. Nevertheless, this work will certainly help in the advance towards obtaining X-ray spectra from single atoms and to evaluate the fluorescence yield on a single-atom basis.

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Figure 1: Experimental set-up.
Figure 2: Single-atom EDX and EELS.
Figure 3: Line profiles of EDX and EELS.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported in part by the Nanotechnology Network Japan programme, sponsored by MEXT, the Japanese Government. The authors thank K. Kimoto for his valuable comment regarding cross-section calculations. The authors also thank Y. Iizumi and Y. Niimi for their help with specimen preparation. Thanks also go to one of the reviewers for an extended analysis of the displayed data as well as positive suggestions. K.S. acknowledges support from a Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research from MEXT (no. 19054017) and the JST Research Acceleration programme.

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K.S. and S.M. conceived and designed the experiment. T.O. prepared the materials and S.M. contributed the apparatus. E.O. and K.S. performed the experiment. K.S. analysed the data and wrote the manuscript. All authors commented on the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Kazu Suenaga.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Suenaga, K., Okazaki, T., Okunishi, E. et al. Detection of photons emitted from single erbium atoms in energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy. Nature Photon 6, 545–548 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1038/nphoton.2012.148

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