North Carolina Patent of the Month – February 2022

During electron microscope imaging, fluid flows through the sample holder to maintain reaction activity. This gas enters via an inlet into a hermetically sealed imaging area and exists through an outlet. This setup allows the microscope to remain at a high vacuum. This process requires the measure of flow rates in order to control the gas. Each gas has different parameters though, and therefore each gas needs different pre-calibrated mass flow controllers. This can make the process both complex and expensive to maintain.

Protochips, Inc. has designed a new fluid handling system for these electron microscope sample holders. Their design achieves independent pressure and flow control to create a simpler overall system.

Their design uses a pressure control system that supplies gas to the sample holder via an inlet. The outlet allows this gas to exit as usual, however a variable leak valve then controls the gas flow from the outlet line. The gas ends up traveling from an upstream tank of the pressure control system, through the sample holder, and into a downstream tank of the pressure control system as a result of the pressure difference between tanks. The leak valve controls this pressure difference, allowing modifications as needed. Collection tanks contain various gasses in a known volume. These tanks have gas independent pressure gauges. These measurements are used to control the variable leak valve, and ultimately control the gas flow through the system.

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