Innovation and Partnerships Office

Safe Preparation of Black Silicon Substrate for Nanostructure Initiator Mass Spectrometry (NIMS) 2015-122


  • NIMS platform for analysis of biological molecules


  • More consistent, controlled NIMS chip production
  • Does not require hydrofluoric acid
  • Characteristics of the black silicon can be modified to alter NIMS sensitivity


Trent Northen and other Berkeley Lab researchers have demonstrated a new technology for preparing black silicon substrate for use in nanostructure initiator mass spectrometry (NIMS) applications using standard inductively coupled plasma (ICP) instrumentation at cryogenic temperatures. Characteristics of the resulting black silicon substrate can be modified through manipulation of temperature, pressure, voltage, and several other parameters during production, as the surface morphology of the black silicon affects both the speed and sensitivity of ion detection during NIMS analysis. Substrates prepared using this technology are of a suitable sensitivity for most potential commercial use of NIMS.

NIMS is a highly sensitive detection method for analyzing a wide range of samples such as biofluids, tissues, and single cells. Wider implementation of NIMS has been limited by the electrochemical etching process for producing the nanostructured NIMS surface, which involves the use of hazardous chemicals and electric current.

DEVELOPMENT STAGE: Proven principle. Black silicon NIMS substrates were obtained through ICP-REI processes. Modification of plasma etching conditions including gas flow rates, etching times, and silicon temperatures were applied in order to maximize NIMS performance.

STATUS: Patent pending. Available for licensing or collaborative research.

Gao, J., de Raad, M., Bowen, B., Zuckermann, R., Northen, T. “The application of black silicon for nanostructure-initiator mass spectrometry,” Analytical Chemistry, 2016, 88(3), 1625-1630.


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