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Argon ion slicing (ArIS): a new tool to prepare super large TEM thin films from Earth and planetary materials

TEM foil preparation techniques commonly used in geology, material science and cosmochemistry are argon ion milling, ultramicrotomy and the Focused Ion Beam (FIB) technique. In this study we report on Argon Ion Slicing (ArIS), a new gentle preparation method which enables for the first time to prepare super large continuous and relatively smooth electron-transparent thin films (up to 50,000 µm2) suitable for TEM use. So far Argon Ion Slicing was mainly applied on mono- or bi-mineralic samples in material science. We applied and improved this promising new technique on several geo-materials including two meteorite samples to prove the viability of ArIS on complex (polycrystalline, polyphase, porous) natural samples. The successfully obtained continuous electron-transparent thin films comprise an area of 44,000 µm2 for Murchison (CM 2) and 30,000 µm2 for the Allende (CV 3) meteorite samples, respectively. ArIS is a low-energy broad-ion-beam shadowing technique and benefits from an additional protection device (a copper belt). The sample portion directly beneath the belt is protected from the ion beam. The beam "slices off" the protruding sample parts on both sides of the belt and creates a large elongated wedge. Since the developing thin film is located almost parallel to the beam propagation direction, it is almost unaffected from any irradiation damage and a phase dependent preferred thinning is not observed. Rough sample edges were smoothened with a Cross section polisher prior to ArIS treatment, which turned out to be a crucial step to produce super large electron-transparent thin films.

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