Surface Science: Focusing on Bioanalysis

Surface science techniques provide microscopic analysis of surfaces and samples; together, they represented nearly $4.3 billion in 2007 sales. The individual technologies span an enormous range of sophistication, from light microscopes costing thousands of dollars, to complicated confocal microscopes and ultrahigh-vacuum surface analysis systems with price tags in the million-dollar range. The overall market is forecast to grow 6.4% in 2008, reaching a total market value of more than $4.5 billion. Scanning probe microscopy (SPM) continues to contribute double-digit growth. Although SPM has gained acceptance in the semiconductor industry as a process tool, applications for research have been somewhat slower to develop. Recently, this has changed for the better, and the applications space has broadened considerably. One outgrowth of semiconductor research has been the explosion of nanotechnology. Nanostructures are particularly well suited to analysis by SPM, which not only provides imaging, but also important information from the direct physical interaction of the SPM probe with the sample. Also, life science applications have grown, again, with the interaction of the probe with biological samples and substances being a primary factor for the growth of the technique. Electron microscopy is another area of opportunity, as this segment of the market is not only relatively large, but should experience the second fastest growth rate in 2008 at nearly 8%. For many years, product development in electron microscopy has pushed the envelope, providing finer and finer resolution, ultimately reaching the atomic scale. However, a current trend has been the development of tabletop scanning electron microscopes (SEMs) that provide resolution better than optical microscopes in a relatively small, easy-to-use package at a price comparable to high-end optical microscopes. These products are helping to broaden the customer base for electron microscopy. This will have the effect of taking share away from optical microscopy, but the effect is not likely to be very noticeable on the overall market, because optical microscopy represented more than half of the entire surface science market in 2007. Although optical microscopy is a very traditional technique, growth in the market should be a relatively healthy 5.5%, fueled by life science demand for advanced systems. The confocal microscopy segment is the smallest of the surface science techniques (IBO’s surface science category excludes confocal systems that are dedicated units for microarray scanning and other purposes). Life science remains the main driver of growth for confocal systems, resulting in a 6% gain for the technique in 2008. The slowest growing of the surface science techniques will be surface analysis, which comprises a number of individual techniques carried out under vacuum conditions. Generally speaking, these techniques are similar to electron microscopy, but use different particles as the probing beam and detected species. These devices are used primarily in materials science applications, particularly those with a semiconductor emphasis. Uncertainties in the semiconductor market will likely retard growth in surface analysis, resulting in relatively modest growth of 3.3%. Although the top four optical microscope vendors—Olympus, Nikon, Carl Zeiss and Leica (Danaher)—accounted for more than half of the market in 2007, there are a huge number of small- to medium-sized competitors, mainly due to the relative simplicity of lower-end microscopes. Products in the other markets are all quite technically complicated, and they are dominated by a relatively small number of large players that have the resources to develop, manufacture and market million-dollar instruments. Several of these companies have offerings in several different surface science technologies, while others are confined to particular areas of expertise. Examples of the latter would include Veeco in SPM and Ulvac-PHI in surface analysis.

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