Our instruments

The Institute for Frontier Materials houses one of Australia's premier collections of advanced characterisation instruments for materials science and engineering.

Atomic force microscopy

Atomic force microscopy is a small-scale surface profiling technique in which a sharp tip is dragged over the sample surface. The movement of the tip is recorded to create a 3-dimensional image of the surface topography. The deflection of the AFM tip is measured by a position sensitive detector, which allows vertical and horizontal measurement of the cantilever deflection.

The cantilever deflection is fed back into the scanner, which moves the probe upwards or downwards to bring the laser back into the centre of the detector. If the tip is bending up because the tip has reached a high feature, the scanner moves the whole probe upwards - enough to return the deflection of the cantilever to its original value. Likewise, when a 'valley' is encountered, the scanner moves the probe downwards. In this way, the deflection of the cantilever, and hence the tip-sample interaction force is kept constant. The amount the scanner had to move to maintain the deflection is equivalent to sample topography, and is recorded by the computer. This is known as contact-mode AFM.

Another mode of imaging using the AFM is known as 'tapping' mode. This technique vibrates the end of the tip, essentially tapping the sample surface. The tapping mode technique is especially useful for soft materials, and can be used to obtain high resolution images.

Danish Micro Engineering Atomic Force Microscope (AFM)

The Danish Micro Engineering is a microscope base AFM capable of angstrom resolution on fibre and gels, but in particular nano-indentations on solids.

Bruker MultiMode 8 Atomic Force Microscope (AFM)

The Bruker MultiMode 8 is a classic style AFM capable of angstrom resolution on fibres, gels, solids and in liquids.

The Asylum Research Cyber Atomic Force Microscope (AFM)

Asylum Research Cyber Atomic Force Microscope AFM is capable of sub-angstrom resolution.


  • Closed loop imaging from tens of microns down to atomic scales
  • Small cantilevers for high-speed scanning
  • High-speed, low-noise force measurements
  • High-bandwidth data acquisition
  • Diffraction-limited optical sample viewing/imaging
  • Automated laser alignment


Nano-indentation is a relatively new technique derived from the miniaturisation of standard hardness testing. However, the nano indentation technique is fully instrumented, having both distance and force measurement capabilities. It has an interchangeable tip and is usually run with either a Berkovic pyramidal indentor or a flat indentor. The standard Berkovic indentor is used to measure the mechanical properties of very small phases or thin films. A flat indentor is typically used to carry out small compression tests on micro-pillars.

The physics of nano-indenting is fairly well described, and the force displacement data can readily be used to generate an equivalent stress-strain flow curve, analogous to what would be measured in a bulk specimen. The nano-indentation technique can also be used to study time dependent behaviours such as creep in visco-plastic materials.

UMIS nano-indenter

The CSIRO Ultra Micro Indentation System (informally a nano-hardness tester) has been used at Deakin to determine super elasticity, pile up effect and grid pattern strain analyses in mostly metallics. We often use the nano hardness in conjunction with the attached atomic force microscope to examine indents for changes in profile, hardness or phase.


  • Depth range: 2 to 20 micron, range A & B
  • Depth resolution: 0.003nm
  • Load range: 50mN & 500mN, range A & B
  • Minimum load: 2mN
  • Load resolution: 0.002mN
  • Positioning stages: 0.1mm step size
  • Supervising technician: Robert Pow

Thermal analysis

The thermal analysis suite at IFM has a full range of characterisation equipment for all fields of materials science, including polymers, composites and powders. Thermal analysis is used to measure phase transformations, glass transition temperatures, chemical reactions as well as the change in material properties with temperature. We have a number of staff, particularly in the polymers research group, with extensive expertise in all areas of thermal analysis.

Dynamic Mechanical Analyser (DMA)

The TA Instruments Q800 DMA determines the mechanical properties of viscoelastic materials as a function of temperature. It is particularly useful in determining transitions such as the glass transition which are difficult to measure using differential scanning calorimeter (DSC).


  • Maximum force: 18 N
  • Minimum force: 0.0001 N
  • Force resolution: 0.00001 N
  • Strain resolution: 1 Nanometer
  • Modulus range: 103 to 3x1012 Pa
  • Modulus precision : ± 1%
  • Tan δ sensitivity: 0.0001
  • Tan δ resolution: 0.00001
  • Frequency range: 0.01 to 200 Hz
  • Deformation range: ± 0.5 - 10,000 µm
  • Temperature range: -150–600°C
  • Heating rate: 0.1 - 20°C/min
  • Cooling rate: 0.1 - 10°C/min
  • Isothermal stability: ± 0.1°C
  • Supervising technician: Robert Pow

Differential Scanning Calorimeter (DSC)

The TA Instruments Q200 DSC determines melt points, phases and other transitions in polymers, resins and powders. Low temperature transformations in metals can also be measured.

High temperature DSC

The Netzsch Simultaneous Thermal Analyser (STA) is a high temperature DSC used to measure high temperature transitions in metallic samples. The instrument can operate at temperatures up to 1600°C, and is capable of measuring the melting point and phase transformation temperature of many ferrous and non-ferrous alloy systems.


  • Temperature range: -120°C–1650°C
  • Heating and cooling rates: 0.01 - 50 K/min (dependent on furnace)
  • Weighing range: 18000 mg
  • TG resolution: 2 μg
  • DSC resolution: < 1 μW
  • Atmospheres: inert, oxidizing, reducing, static, dynamic
  • Vacuum: tight assembly up to 10 - 2 mbar
  • Supervising technician: Robert Pow

Thermogravimetric Analyser (TGA)

The TA Instruments Q50 TGA measures weight loss or weight gain of a sample as a function of temperature. It can identify changes such as decomposition, vaporisation, adsorption and combustion. It is most useful for studying polymeric materials, but is also applicable to fibres and composites.


  • Maximum sample weight 1 g
  • Weighing precision +/- 0.01%
  • Sensitivity 0.1 µg
  • Baseline dynamic drift < 50 μg
  • Temperature range ambient to 1 000°C
  • Isothermal temp accuracy +/- 1°C
  • Isothermal temp precision +/- 0.1°C
  • Controlled heating rate 0.1 to 100°C/min
  • Furnace cooling (forced air/N2) 1000 to 50°C < 12 min


The TA Instruments HR-3 Rheometer is capable of determining the mechanical properties of liquids and gels, along with the curing properties of thermoset resins and adhesives.

  • Minimum torque oscillation 0.5 nN.m
  • Minimum torque steady shear 5 nN.m
  • Maximum torque 200 mN.m
  • Torque resolution 0.05 nN.m
  • Minimum frequency 1.0E-07 Hz
  • Maximum frequency 100 Hz
  • Minimum angular velocity 0 rad/s
  • Maximum angular velocity 300 rad/s
  • Displacement resolution 2 nrad
  • Step time, strain 15 ms
  • Step time, rate 5 ms
  • Maximum normal force 50 N
  • Normal force sensitivity 0.005 N
  • Normal force resolution 0.5 mN

X-ray diffraction

X-ray diffraction is a core characterisation technique for the study of materials science. It is a robust and versatile technique that can be used to measure a wide range of information such as percentage crystallinity, crystal lattice parameter, phase identification and residual stress. Our X-ray diffraction laboratory houses two different diffractometers with complementary capabilities, enabling us to study a range of materials in the one laboratory. We have a number of dedicated academic staff with specific expertise in using diffraction to study materials science and we also provide technical assistance for students and beginners.

Panalytical X'pert MRD XL

Measurement types

  • Phase identification (standard 2-theta scanning)
  • Texture
  • Residual stress measurement
  • Thin film analysis

Instrument specifications

  • Two X-ray optics: point focus and line focus
  • Silicon monochromator
  • Cu Kα radiation
  • Can measure rough specimens and tilted specimens

In-situ capabilities

The MRD can be used to examine lattice strain of light metals under tension using the in-situ deformation rig. This is carried out in transmission mode, rather than the ‘reflection’ which is typically used for standard 2-theta scanning. Development and commissioning of this equipment was the PhD project of one of our staff members, Dr Sitarama Raju and he remains on our staff as a postdoctoral researcher specialising in this technique.

Panalytical X'pert Powder

Instrument specifications

  • Dedicated phase identification instrument
  • Line focus
  • Ni filter
  • Range of divergence slits available to suit the sample and experiment
  • Cu Kα radiation
  • Ultra-fast 1D detector for rapid acquisition of data

In-situ capabilities

The Powder diffractometer has an in-situ heating stage that can be heated to 1000°C during an XRD experiment. Combined with the upgraded detector, full XRD spectra can be obtained while the sample is being heated, cooled, or held at temperature. This is an ideal experimental apparatus for studying high temperature material behaviours.

In-situ deformation stage for X-ray diffraction

The DEBEN MICROTEST stage has capabilities to perform tensile, compression and bending deformation studies in-situ X-ray diffraction in reflection. The original configuration has been modified specifically to conduct a transmission X-ray diffraction experiment in-situ tensile deformation. The modified in-situ stage combined with transmission X-ray diffraction provides a unique opportunity to study the lattice stress evolution during slip/ twinning deformation mechanisms in a laboratory scale.


  • Maximum load: 5 kN
  • Test speed: 0.3 - 300 mm/s
  • Test control: constant strain and constant load
  • Loading types: tension, compression and bending
  • Diffraction geometry: reflection and transmission X-ray diffraction

Electron Microscopy

Housed in the Geelong Technology Precinct at the Geelong Waurn Ponds Campus, our facility supports a wide range of research projects that lead and inspire innovations in materials science and engineering.

Researchers use the facility to develop and apply advanced materials in the sectors of manufacturing technology, energy efficiency, resource and infrastructure sustainability, including such diverse fields as metallurgy, textiles, biology and composites.

Our dedicated team aspires to provide the highest quality operator training and education.

Opened in September 2012 as Stage One of the federally-funded Australian Future Fibres and Innovation Centre (AFFRIC) project, the electron microscope facility contains six purpose-built laboratories, featuring a comprehensive collection of instruments used in the characterisation of materials.

If you have a project that needs a purpose-built electron microscopy laboratory we invite you to make use of our open access facility and contact: microscopy@deakin.edu.au.

Atom Probe Tomography

Cameca LEAP 4000 HR Atom Probe

The LEAP 4000X HR is a high performance 3D atom probe microscope that provides nano-scale surface, bulk and interfacial materials analysis of simple and complex structures with atom-by-atom identification and accurate spatial positioning.

Current project examples

  • Investigation into deformation modes and recrystallisation of Mg alloys that includes the role of rare-earth solute distributions on hardening and segregation of solutes to grain boundaries and dislocations
  • Effect of vanadium microalloying on the stability of mechanical properties of hot rolled bainitic strip steels
  • Chemistry of nano-scale precipitates in Al alloys and high-strength low-alloy steels


Local Electrode Atom Probe (LEAP) microscope allows atomic resolution chemical and spatial analysis in three dimensions. The LEAP 4000 HR utilises a large-angle reflectron lens to provide high mass resolution in voltage mode with a large field of view and enables differentiation between all elements and their isotopes. The local electrode design allows analysis of microtip specimens as well as conventional needle-shaped samples.


  • Acquisition rates of 1 to 10 million ions per hour
  • Millions to tens of millions of atoms per specimen
  • Tomographic analysis volume in the range of 50 x 50 x 200 nm
  • Spatial resolution: ~ 0.1 - 0.5 nm
  • Mass resolution: ~ 1000 (FWHM)
  • Chemical sensitivity: ~ 10 ppm

Acknowledge us

When you are writing up your research, please remember to acknowledge the role of our facilities and expertise. Acknowledgments demonstrate that investments in equipment and people have led to important outcomes. Your publications, presentations and posters are a vital part of the business case for ongoing funding of Deakin's Advanced Characterisation Facility.

Please add the following acknowledgement to any work published using data obtained using our facilities:

The present work was carried out with the support of the Deakin Advanced Characterisation Facility.