The Potsdam Ion Microprobe (SIMS) User Facility

Section 3.1 of the Helmholtz Zentrum Potsdam operates a fully equipped, large geometry SIMS instrument, which is supported by a comprehensive spectrum of peripheral instrumentation.  The SIMS laboratory is an open user facility intended to support the needs of the global geochemical community.  Scientists from Europe and beyond are invited to contact us to discuss possibilities for collaboration.  We strive to provide top-quality analytical data in an as rapid and uncomplicated means as possible.

SIMS Basics

Backscattered electron image of a zircon crystal
Backscattered electron image of a zircon crystal with a ~20µm diameter sputter crater produced during a 90 minute SIMS analysis.

Ion microprobes, also known as secondary ion mass spectrometers (SIMS), use a finely focused ion beam to probe a selected sample domain.  A small percentage of the material sputtered from the polished surface of the sample is ionized, and these ions are accelerated into a mass spectrometer where they are separated according to their mass-over-charge ratio.  An important characteristic of SIMS is its high sensitivity compared to other microbeam sampling techniques: the ability to count individual ions results in detection limits in the parts-per-billion range for many elements.  Also the fact that ions derived from the sample are separated by their mass-over-charge ratio allows isotopic analyses to be performed on test portion masses that can be as small as 200 picograms.

Ion microprobes offer six modes of operation for geoscience applications:

  • Isotopic Analyses: Our 1280-HR instrument provides an analytical repeatability down to below 0.2 ‰ (1sd) for many major elements in a variety of crystalline matrices.
  • Trace Element Analyses: For most elements our instrument has a limit of detection at or below 100 ng/g.
  • Geochronology: The 1280-HR can measure the U-Pb systematics on both zircon and on other suitable phases.  Such analyses are a combination of both isotopic and trace element analyses.
  • Imaging: The Potsdam 1280-HR can provide element distribution maps with spatial resolutions reaching down to 2 µm.
  • Depth Profiling: Depth resolution on the Cameca 1280 is mainly limited by a sample's surface polish.  Typically we are able to quantify diffusion profiles with a resolution of approximately 20 nm.
  • Particle Search: Automated software will allow many millions of dust particles to be search in a single session looking for specific grains that have anomalous isotopic signatures or elevated trace element contents.  This approach is particularly of use for environmental monitoring.

SIMS Laboratory News

Workshop Group Photo
Workshop Group Photo

Update: From 5th to 6th May 2014 a joint German-Russian workshop focussing on ore minerals was held at the GFZ.  A major theme of the discussions was the development of a long term collaboration between the Helmholtz Society and the Russian partners, including an emphasis on the training of young scientists in the field of secondary ion mass spectrometry.

Update: On 11 December 2013 the Potsdam 1280-HR ion probe began collecting its first publication-quality data.  We are schedlued to complete three projects during the first six weeks of operations.

Update: On 20 August 2013 the new Potsdam SIMS facility formally opened.  Prof. Dr. Sabine Kunst, Minister for Science, Research and Culture of the State of Brandenburg alongside Prof. Dr. Reinhard Hüttl, Scientific Director of the Helmholtz Zentrum Potsdam, officiated at the ceremony.

Opening of the new SIMS Lab on 20 August 2013
Opening of the new SIMS Lab on 20 August 2013

Update: On 08 March 2013 the Cameca 1280-HR instrument was delivered to Potsdam.  Installation is planned to begin during the first half of April.  Short film from Potsdam-TV.

Update: On 15 January 2013 the GFZ SIMS Laboratory announced that it will be hosting the Biennial Geo-SIMS workshop BGSW7, which will be held on 21 and 22 August 2013.

Update: On 09 May 2012 the Cameca ims 6f instrument was transported to its new home at the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden Rossendorf, thus marking the end of a highly productive 13 years in Potsdam where it produced data for over 100 scientific projects.  Once installed at our sister facility in Dresden, the 6f will be coupled to an accelerator mass spectrometer at the core of the "Super-SIMS" initiative of the Helmholtz Institute Freiberg for Resource Technology.

Update: On 13 September 2011 the Helmholtz Centre Potsdam signed a purchase contract for the acquisition of a Cameca 1280-HR instrument.  The acquisition of this new technology will open many new research opportunities for our world-wide user community.  The new instrument is scheduled for delivery in Potsdam in December 2012 and acceptance should be approximately 3 months later.  Routine operation of the new facility, which will emphasize high-precision isotope ratio determinations, will aimed for late 2013.  The currently available Cameca ims 6f instrument, which has been in operation since 1998, will be decommissioned by the GFZ in March 2012.


Our Area Code:      +49 331
1280-HR Lab:     288-28915
Operator Room:  288-28916
Prep Room:        288-28917
FAX:                   288-1474

SIMS Laboratory
Section 3.1
Helmholtz Zentrum Potsdam
14473 Potsdam

Head of SIMS Group

Dr. Michael Wiedenbeck

Tel: +49 331 288-1484