Freeze-Etching and Vapor Matrix Deposition for ToF-SIMS Imaging of Single Cells
Journal article, 2008

Freeze-etching, the practice of removing excess surface water from a sample through sublimation into the vacuum of the analysis environment, has been extensively used in conjunction with electron microscopy. Here, we apply this technique to time-of-flight secondary-ion mass spectrometry (ToF-SIMS) imaging of cryogenically preserved single cells. By removing the excess water which condenses onto the sample in vacuo, a uniform surface is produced that is ideal for imaging by static SIMS. We demonstrate that the conditions employed to remove deposited water do not adversely affect cell morphology and do not redistribute molecules in the topmost surface layers. In addition, we found water can be controllably redeposited onto the sample at temperatures below −100 °C in vacuum. The redeposited water increases the ionization of characteristic fragments of biologically interesting molecules 2-fold without loss of spatial resolution. The utilization of freeze-etch methodology will increase the reliability of cryogenic sample preparations for SIMS analysis by providing greater control of the surface environment. Using these procedures, we have obtained high quality spectra with both atomic bombardment as well as C60+ cluster ion bombardment.


Paul D. Piehowski

Michael Kurczy

David Willingham

Shawn Parry

M. L. Heien

Nicholas Winograd

Andrew Ewing

University of Gothenburg


Vol. 24 15 7906-7911

Subject Categories

Chemical Sciences



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