Custom Metal Coatings—When to Use Aluminum Thin Films

Functional metal coatings are increasingly important in research settings, enabling scientists to modulate the surface properties of different substrates to suit specific experiment parameters. Yet coated microscope slides are not a new phenomenon. Biochemists and life scientists have long exploited polymeric coatings like epoxy resin, gelatine, poly-L-lysine, and various silanes to promote better adhesion between organic samples and a substrate. Custom metal coatings are a natural progression of polymer-coated microscope slides for a more precise era of life science microscopy.

Metal Deposition on Microscope Slides: What You Need to Know

Polymer-coated microscope slides are sold pre-applied, or researchers can purchase uncoated slides and apply the relevant coating themselves. Few research labs have the capacity to apply custom metal coatings in-house, so suppliers typically provide coated slides in pre-packaged batches. Unlike polymer-coating, where slides can often be placed into metal racks, dipped into a solution, then dried, metal deposition requires extensive specialist equipment to achieve a high-quality finish.

At Platypus Technologies, our method of choice is electron-beam (e-beam) vapour deposition which is a high-vacuum process offering exceptional control of film thickness. Though there is no empirical definition as to what constitutes a thin film, it is generally accepted to encompass any metal coating ranging from a monolayer (0.01 nm) to just a few micrometres (μm).

Our e-beam metal deposition process enables us to produce highly reproducible, uniform custom metal coatings with low surface roughness and extremely high purity (>99.99%). These make for ideal substrates in critical research and technical applications.

Aluminum Thin Films: The Basics

We have written extensively about our gold-coated substrates in COVID-19 research and copper thin films for corrosion testing, but our metal deposition capabilities cover a wide spectrum of materials including aluminum, chromium, platinum, nickel, and titanium. 

Aluminum (Al) is one of the most widely consumed metals on earth, with booming primary and secondary production industries making it a relatively sustainable material. It is primarily used in research settings for its excellent conductivity, reflectivity, and low reactivity, making it an excellent coating material for various experiment needs. You would commonly find aluminum thin films on optical systems in headlamps and light-emitting diodes, but they are also applicable to more complex requirements.

At Platypus Tech, we have supplied substrates with custom aluminum coatings for a range of experiment types and devices. One particularly exciting area of study that has benefited from our custom metal coatings is that of nanoporous (NP) metals which exhibit superior mechanical and functional properties to their bulk counterparts. Our coatings are subjected to anodization which enables materials scientists to synthesize nanoporous aluminum for further observation.

Aluminum oxide nanopores can also be useful for unique biosensors—in fact, nanoporous anodic aluminum oxide (AAO) is one of the leading materials for cutting-edge applications like molecular separations, energy generation and storage, and targeted drug delivery.  

We have also supplied custom metal coatings based on aluminum and choice substrates for plasmonic devices and in tailor-made patterned surface electrodes. If you would like more information on when you might use one of our aluminum thin films, or to discuss potential partnership opportunities for your research application, why not contact a member of the team today?