Direct particle analysis at the nano level

By Pete Mansell

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Scanning electron microscope

A joint development partnership between Malvern Instruments and
imaging specialist FEI has produced what the companies claim is the
first ever tool for determining the size and shape of sub-micron
particles through direct analysis.

The new instrument, the Quanta Morphologi, combines the magnification and resolving power of FEI's Quanta 200 FEG scanning electron microscope (SEM) with the Morphologi particle characterisation software already used in Malvern's analytical systems incorporating traditional optical microscopes, such as the Morphologi G3. The result, say Malvern and FEI, is a "critical turnkey solution​" that will give pharmaceutical companies more control over "new products and drug formulations that require particle manufacture at increasingly smaller nanoscale dimensions for a wide variety of advanced therapeutic applications​". Pharmaceutical companies are increasingly turning to 'nanonisation' as a means to enhance the performance of poorly soluble active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs). And as Matt Harris, vice-president of FEI's NanoBiology division, points out, variations in particle size and shape can dramatically alter the physical and therapeutic properties of APIs. To date, though, the only available methods for characterising sub-micron particles have been indirect techniques that record equivalent spherical diameter. For irregularly shaped particles, characterisation of particle size also needs to include information on particle shape and the type of diameter measured, Malvern and FEI note. With the Quanta Morphologi, users can create reference methods for quality-control process design, perform automated particle analysis, examine surface detail and conduct statistical analysis to characterise more fully particle size and shape distributions. The new system enables them to define the "most important morphological parameters for differentiating a set of samples, such as good and bad sample batches​", the companies comment. Other distinguishing features include the adjustable imaging modes (high-, low- or extended low-vaccum) that come as standard with the Quanta family of SEMs, catering to a wide range of sample types. Low-vacuum capability gives users the flexibility to analyse materials without many of the sample preparation constraints traditionally associated with SEMs, Malvern and FEI point out. The Quanta Morphologi is "engineered to provide maximum data - imaging and microanalysis - from all specimens, with or without preparation​". The system also offers assured reproducibility - software-driven standard operating procedures (SOPs) eliminate user variability and enable global method transfer - as well as a broad measuring range (from 100nm to 2mm) and the option of using the Quanta 200 FEG SEM for imaging other than particle characterisation. According to FEI, all of the Quanta SEMs are equipped with analytical systems, such as an energy dispersive spectrometer, wavelength dispersive x-ray spectroscopy and electron backscatter diffraction. Moreover, the FEG (field emission gun) systems contain a S/TEM detector for bright-field and dark-field sample imaging. Among the cited features of the Morphologi image analysis software are scattergrams for easy visualisation of measurement data, classification and filtering; data comparison tools; a particle viewer for viewing, sorting, filtering and classifying all captured particle images; selected parameter trend analysis for plotting trends between multiple records; and an overplotting mode for comparing multiple results. The Quanta Morphologi was featured at FEI's booth at the Pittsburgh Conference (Pittcon) in New Orleans, US.

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