FlexFocus: Confocal Raman Spectroscopy On-demand

Raman microscopy has become a preferred technique for the rapid, nondestructive analysis of small samples. Raman microscopy compliments and extends the capabilities of infrared microspectroscopic analysis. Whereas conventional infrared microscopy is limited to sample sizes of about several microns or greater, Raman microscopy can routinely measure samples as small as 1 micron.

For some applications, the ability to profile the interior of a sample may also be important. Confocal Raman microscopy offers unique capabilities for analyzing a sample in the z-axis. Confocal microscopy is an optical arrangement that improves axial (z-axis) spatial resolution for sample depth profiling.

An example of typical conventional microscopy optics is shown in Figure 1(a). In this illustration, the incident laser radiation is focused with the microscope objective to the desired region of a sample (not shown). The laser light is scattered from two sample depths shown as Z1 (red) and Z2 (blue). If both points are within the collection volume as defined by the depth of the field of the objective and system optics, the resulting spectrum will be an average of the spectra from points Z1 and Z2.

A confocal optical design can be used to reduce the sampling volume and improve the spatial resolution in order to better discriminate potential spectral differences between Z1 and Z2.


The principle of confocal optical microscopy is shown in Figure 1(b). In this configuration, a confocal aperture is placed in a remote image plane to reduce the sampling depth of field. In this simple example, the aperture blocks the Raman light scattered from Z2, thus resulting in a spectrum exclusively from Z1. Only the in-focus and on-axis Raman light rays are recorded by the spectrograph system, because the confocal aperture blocks the out-of-focus and off-axis light rays. The result is that confocal optical and Raman microscopes restrict the sampling depth to a region that is smaller than that obtained using conventional optics.

In addition, confocal measurements can improve the rejection of stray light and reduce fluorescence interference. Not all confocal Raman microscopy designs are the same. Traditional confocal Raman microscopes, shown schematically in Figure 1(b), utilize a pinhole aperture placed in front of the spectrograph entrance slit. The Raman light is focused onto the pinhole and the diverging beam after the pinhole is then refocused onto the entrance slit of the spectrograph. Different pinhole apertures can be used to control the degree of confocality, while the entrance slit is used to control the spectral resolution of the spectrometer. While this true confocal configuration provides independent control of spatial and spectral resolutions, it is very difficult to align and to maintain optimum performance. This is because the beam is focused twice through two very small apertures. In practice, independent control of the two apertures offers little value. Typical slit widths must be less than 100 um to achieve acceptable spectral resolution, and above 25 um to avoid diffraction effects. The size of the pinhole must be greater than the diffraction limit, but too large a pinhole defeats its purpose. Furthermore, using slit widths larger than the pinhole diameter makes no sense, since it does not improve signal throughput (assuming perfect 1:1 imaging between the pinhole and the slit). Therefore, for the most part, the pinhole diameter and the slit width are kept at similar dimensions, making them redundant. As shown in figure 2(a), the spatial resolution can be controlled by a combination of the entrance slit in one direction, and the spatial resolution of the CCD detector in the orthogonal direction. This configuration depends on the imaging quality of the spectrometer; i.e. a point source at the entrance slit must be imaged to a very small spot. In reality, the non-ideal performance of the spectrograph optics makes this pseudo-confocal configuration inferior to the true confocal approach in terms of spatial resolution. Due to the reduced number of optics, the overall throughput is greater than that achievable with a true confocal design, but less than with a non-confocal or high throughput design.


At Bruker Optics, we offer a novel method that provides the necessary flexibility to conduct Raman microanalysis without compromise. FlexFocus (U.S. Patent number U.S. Pat. 7102746) utilizes a hybrid aperture containing an array of pinholes and slits serving as the entrance aperture of the spectrograph, providing either true confocal or high throughput performance on demand as shown in Figures 2(a) and 2(b). When a slit is selected data is collected with very high throughput, but the optics are not confocal. When a pinhole is selected, data is collected in a true confocal configuration. Because the confocal mode for all designs inherently has less throughput, it is highly desirable to have a system that can rapidly and easily switch back and forth between the high throughput and true confocal modes of operation, as shown in Figure 3. When depth resolution is not necessary data is collected in the high throughput mode, and when depth resolution is important, a simple click of the software switches the Senterra to the true confocal mode, with excellent depth resolution.

In summary, FlexFocus avoids both the cumbersomeness of the traditional true confocal approach, and the compromise between depth resolution and throughput found using the pseudo-confocal approach. High throughput, and therefore high signal-to-noise, Raman spectra can be routinely measured, while optimal confocal performance is available when needed. A depth resolution of better than 2.0 um can be obtained with a 100x objective and the 50 um pinhole.

Contact our sales team today to learn more about the FlexFocus!

Technologies used are protected by one or more of the following patents:
US 6141095; US 7102746