Surface Analysis Laboratory

Our laboratory contains the most complete cluster of surface analysis instrumentation for X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS), time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometry (ToF-SIMS), scanning auger microscopy (SAM) and scanning probe microscopy (SPM) in Europe.


The installed capital value of the instruments in our laboratory is of the order of £3 million and we have state-of-the-art instruments for scanning auger microscopy and X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy.

We work in close collaboration with the MicroStructural Studies Unit here at Surrey, an electron microscopy facility who employ experienced microscopists and have a wide range of state of the art instruments.

Available instruments

Theta probe

A state-of-the-art small spot (15 µm) XPS instrument with a monochromated X-ray source and Ar ion gun for depth profiling. Excellent spatial resolution, sensitivity and energy resolution.

The instrument has parallel angle resolved XPS (PARXPS) capability enabling the acquisition of non-destructive depth profiles. The instrument now includes a preparation chamber which may be used for a range of in-situ and in-vacuo experiments and sample preparation procedures.

Microlab 350

A high spatial resolution (12 nm) Scanning Auger Microscope with simultaneous EDX analysis. XPS and BSE facilities are also available on this multi-technique instrument.

The instrument includes a preparation chamber which may be used for a range of in-situ and in-vacuo experiments and sample preparation procedures, including a fracture stage for metal and composite samples.


A high spatial and mass resolution ToF-SIMS instrument incorporating a polyatomic Bi ion source. Additional Cs and C60 ion sources are installed on this instrument as depth profiling etch sources although they may also be employed as analysis sources.

The instrument includes a preparation chamber which may be used for a range of in-situ and in-vacuo experiments and sample preparation procedures. In-situ stages for impact and controlled strain rate testing of materials are currently installed on the preparation chamber. The instrument also possesses heating and cooling stages in the entry lock and analysis chamber.

Scanning probe microscopy

The Laboratory has been active in SPM since 1992.  Our equipment includes a Bruker Dimension Edge AFM system with PeakForce tapping mode and Kelvin Probe capabilities, the Nanoscope III (Multimode) for fundamental studies and in-situ electrochemical experiments, both in air and in liquids, and a MDT Solver with magnetic force microscopy (MFM) facilities as well as conventional AFM capable of being used under ambient or in-vacuo conditions.


Standard, large area XPS instrument equipped with an XR4 twin anode X-ray source, an Alpha 110 analyzer and an Ar ion gun for sample etching. The instrument includes a sample preparation chamber which may be used for a range of in-situ and in-vacuo experiments and sample preparation procedures. UPS spectroscopy is also available on this instrument.

How we can help you

We offer our services to industry and academia for involvement in research projects or problem solving on a daily pro-rata basis.

Our experienced academics and technical staff have expertise in data interpretation and vast materials knowledge, which along with our state of the art instruments will mean they can select the right combination of techniques for undertaking materials related research and development or solving technical problems.

If you have a particular research problem and would like further information on sponsoring a PhD project where a student can come work for you then contact a member of staff in your area of interest. You can also find further information on becoming a sponsor for our EngD course on the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Micro- and NanoMaterials and Technologies (MiNMaT) website.

Surface analysis techniques can be used to solve problems in a huge range of areas, some of which are listed below.

  • Adhesive failure analysis/delamination
  • Identification of surface contamination
  • Assessment of cleaning procedures
  • Elemental composition – bulk and surface
  • Chemical state information
  • Material identification and verification
  • Micro or nano particle analysis
  • Thin film analysis
  • Metal passivation and corrosion
  • Grain boundary segregation in metals
  • Surface segregation
  • Protective coatings and paints
  • Identification of stains and discolorations
  • Polymer surface functionality before and after various treatments
  • Oxide film thickness
  • Surface ultra-thin film thickness
  • Depth profiles of thin film components
  • Defect identification
  • Molecular identification of lubricants, additives, and contaminants
  • Catalysis

Are the techniques destructive?

Both X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) and auger electron spectroscopy (AES) are considered non-destructive techniques. Sample damage may occur on those sensitive to the high energy x-rays or electron beam.

Time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometry (ToF-SIMS) removes the outer few nanometers of material for analysis but is considered non-destructive for most samples.

If depth profiles are desired, argon or other ion etching is employed; this leads to the removal of several hundred nanometers of material.

Minimum detectable concentration of an element

The minimum detectable concentration of most elements in both X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) and auger electron spectroscopy (AES) is 0.1at. per cent although heavy elements can be detected at lower levels. Time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometry (ToF-SIMS) provides a level of detection in the ppm region.

As each problem is unique our fees will vary depending upon:

  • The analysis techniques required
  • The level of analysis or information required
  • The difficulty of sample preparation
  • Sample type and sample number

So we can't give specific quotes until we have discussed your needs. However an initial discussion with our Laboratory Manager will be free of charge.


For those companies that are sponsoring MSc or PhD students or our Engineering Doctorate researchers, discounts are given on the cost of analysis. For significant analysis requiring several days of instrument time a discount may also be applicable.


An example of a variation in costs would be, the analysis of metallic samples in XPS where a surface composition is only required without any chemical state information can be completed faster and more easily than the analysis of insulators where chemical state information is desired.

Another example with varying costs is analysis in our Auger microscope, the elemental composition of a nanoparticle can be obtained far faster than the composition of a fracture interface fractured in vacuo.

Initial discussion

You are welcome to visit the Laboratory and discuss your requirements in person, or you can send our Laboratory Manager, Dr Steven Hinder an email.

The laboratory staff will always be clear about our capability, facilities, analysis timescale and the results you can expect from the analysis.

Detailed quote is given

If it is decided to go ahead with an investigation a description of the proposed work and a detailed quote will be sent to you for approval.

Collecting and sending your samples

As the surface of samples is so easily contaminated, please, while wearing gloves, wrap the samples securely in fresh aluminium foil and then place in ziplock sample bags. Samples should be clearly labelled individually with a number or other reference if they are sent in a batch.

Our maximum sample size is determined by the size of the vacuum gate valves in our equipment. For XPS and SIMS this is 5x5x2cm and for AES this is 3x3x2cm. A wide range of sample preparation can be carried out on site to ensure a sample is a suitable size for analysis.

You can bring the samples here to the Laboratory in person, or send them to us by post at:

Surface Analysis Laboratory
University of Surrey

The analysis

Typically analysis is completed within one to two weeks from when the sample is received. However if the results are needed urgently then a rush can be achieved and analysis is completed in a few days.

Receiving your data

Once the analysis is complete the data that is collected is considered to be your property and is confidential. A copy will be sent to you and the original files can either be archived for up to two years or deleted at your request. Your samples can be returned should you require them.

Find an expert

If you would like to use our services then please email our laboratory manager, Dr Steve Hinder to discuss your problem. Alternatively, join us on LinkedIn, questions and queries are welcome.

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Dr Mark Baker

Reader in Surface Science and Engineering

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Professor James Castle

Emeritus Professor of Materials

John F Watts profile image

Professor John Watts

Professor of Materials Science

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Research within our Centre addresses ceramics, polymers and metals, as well as composite materials consisting of two or more of these materials, and explores a range of applications where such materials are being used to bring about improved performance or new products.

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Surface Analysis Laboratory
University of Surrey