Atom-probe tomography


Set of data storage objects to describe the acquisition/measurement side, the reconstruction, and the ranging for atom probe microscopy experiments. The data storage objects can be useful as well for field-ion microscopy experiments.

Application Definition

It is proposed to use one application definition to serve atom probe tomography and field-ion microscopy measurements, i.e. the data collection with the instrument:


A general application definition with many detailed places for leaving metadata and computational steps described which are commonly used when reporting the measurement of atom probe data including also detector hit data, as well as how to proceed with reconstructing atom positions from these data, and how to store details about definitions made, which describe how mass-to-charge-state ratio values are mapped to iontypes in a process called ranging.

Base Classes

The following base classes are proposed to support modularizing the storage of pieces of information:


A base class to describe a component of the instrument which houses other components. A chamber may offer a controlled atmosphere to execute an experiment and/or offer functionalities for storing and loading specimens.


A base class to describe different coordinate systems used and/or to be harmonized or transformed into one another when interpreting the dataset.


A base class to describe charged molecular ions with an adjustable number of atoms/isotopes building each ion. Right now the maximum number of atoms supported building a molecular ion is 32. Suggestions made in reference DOI: 10.1017/S1431927621012241 are used to map isotope to hash values with which all possible isotopes can be described.


A base class to bundle manufacturer/technology-partner-specific details about a component or device of an instrument.


A base class to describe peaks mathematically to detail how peaks in mass-to-charge-state ratio histograms (aka mass spectra) are defined and labelled as iontypes.


A base class to describe details about pump(s) of an instrument.


A base class to describe the high-voltage and/or laser pulsing capabilities of an atom probe microscope.


A base class to describe a kinetic-energy-sensitive filtering device for time of flight (ToF) mass spectrometry.


A base class to describe the specimen fixture including the cryo-head. Nowadays, these stages represent small-scale laboratory platforms. Therefore, there is a need to define the characteristics of such stages in more detail, especially in light of in-situ experiments. Many similarities exists between a stage in an electron microscope and one in an atom probe instrument. Both offer fixture functionalities and additional components for applying e.g. stimuli on the specimen.

Microscopy experiments, not only taking into account those performed on commercial instruments, offer the user usually to apply a set of data processing steps. Some of them are frequently applied on-the-fly. For now we represent these steps with specifically named instances of the NXprocess base class.

Like every research community data processing steps are essential to transform measurements into knowledge. These processing steps should be documented to enable reproducible research and learn how pieces of information were connected. In what follows, an example is presented how an open-source community software can be modified to use descriptions of these computational steps. The respective research software here is the paraprobe-toolbox


One tool is the paraprobe-toolbox software package in the the apmtools container. The software is developed by M. Kühbach et al..

Here we show how NeXus is used to consistently define application definitions for scientific software in the field of atom probe. In this community the paraprobe-toolbox is an example of an open-source parallelized software for analyzing point cloud data, for assessing meshes in 3D continuum space, and for studying the effects of parameterization on descriptors which describe the micro- and nanostructure of materials that are studied with atom probe microscopy.

The need for a thorough documentation of the tools in not only the paraprobe-toolbox was motivated by several needs:

First, users of software would like to better understand and also be able to study for themselves which individual parameters and settings for each tool exist and how configuring these affects their analyses quantitatively.

Second, scientific software like the tools in the paraprobe-toolbox implement a numerical/algorithmical (computational) workflow whereby data from multiple input sources (like previous analysis results) are processed and carried through more involved analysis within several steps inside the tool. The tool then creates output as files.

Individual tools of paraprobe-toolbox are developed in C/C++ and/or Python. Provenance tracking is useful as it is one component and requirement for making workflows exactly numerically reproducible and thereby empower scientists to fulfill better the “R”, i.e. reproducibility of their daily FAIR research practices.

The paraprobe-toolbox is one example of a software which implements a workflow via a sequence of operations executed within a jupyter notebook (or Python script respectively). Specifically, individual tools are chained. Convenience functions are available to create well-defined input/configuration files for each tool. These config files instruct the tool upon processing.

In this design, each workflow step (with a tool) is in fact a pair (or triple) of at least two sub-steps: i) the creation of a configuration file, ii) the actual analysis using the Python/or C/C++ tools, iii) the optional post-processing/visualizing of the results inside the NeXus/HDF5 files generated from each tool run using other software.

What has been achieved so far?

This proposal summarizes work of members of the FAIRmat project, which is part of the German National Research Data Infrastructure aimed at a change of the paraprobe-toolbox and its interaction with files for all tools so that only well-defined configuration files are accepted as input and results end up as specifically formatted output. For this NeXus application definitions are used.

Data and metadata between the tools are exchanged with NeXus/HDF5 files. Specifically, we created for each tool an application definition (see below) which details all possible settings and options for the configuration as to guide users. The config(uration) files are currently implemented as HDF5 files, whose content matches to the naming conventions of the respective config application definition for each tool. As an example NXapm_paraprobe_config_surfacer specifies how a configuration file for the paraprobe-surfacer tool should be formatted and which parameter it should and/or may contain.

That is each config file uses a controlled vocabulary of terms. Furthermore, the config files store a SHA256 checksum for each input file. This implements a full provenance tracking on the input files along the processing chain/workflow.

As an example, a user may first range their reconstruction and then compute correlation functions. The config file for the ranging tool stores the files which hold the reconstructed ion position and ranging definitions. The ranging tool generates a results file with the ion type labels stored. This results file is formatted according to the tool-specific results application definition. This results file and the reconstruction is imported by the spatial statistics tool which again keeps track of all files.

This design makes it possible to rigorously trace which numerical results were achieved with a specific input and settings using specifically-versioned tools.

We understand that this additional handling of metadata and provenance tracking may not be at first glance super relevant for scientists or appears to be an unnecessarily complex feature. There is indeed an additional layer of work which came with the development and maintenance of this functionality.

However, we are convinced that this is the preferred way of performing software development and data analyses as it enables users to take advantage of a completely automated provenance tracking which happens silently in the background.

Application Definitions

Application definitions for the input side (configuration) of each tool were defined.


Configuration of paraprobe-transcoder Load POS, ePOS, APSuite APT, RRNG, RNG, and NXapm HDF5 files.


Configuration of paraprobe-ranger Apply ranging definitions and explore possible molecular ions.


Configuration of paraprobe-selector Defining complex spatial regions-of-interest to filter reconstructed datasets.


Configuration of paraprobe-surfacer Create a model for the edge of a point cloud via convex hulls, alpha shapes.


Configuration of paraprobe-distancer Compute analytical distances between ions to a set of triangles.


Configuration of paraprobe-tessellator Compute Voronoi cells for if desired all ions in a dataset.


Configuration of paraprobe-nanochem Compute delocalization, iso-surfaces, analyze 3D objects, and composition profiles.


Configuration of paraprobe-intersector Assess intersections and proximity of 3D triangulated surface meshes in continuum space to study the effect the parameterization of surface extraction algorithms on the resulting shape, spatial arrangement, and colocation of 3D objects via graph-based techniques.


Configuration of paraprobe-spatstat Spatial statistics on the entire or selected regions of the reconstructed dataset.


Configuration of paraprobe-clusterer Import cluster analysis results of IVAS/APSuite and perform clustering analyses in a Python ecosystem.

Application definitions for the output side (results) of each tool were defined.


Results of paraprobe-transcoder Store reconstructed positions, ions, and charge states.


Results of paraprobe-ranger Store applied ranging definitions and combinatorial analyses of all possible iontypes.


Results of paraprobe-selector Store which points are inside or on the boundary of complex spatial regions-of-interest.


Results of paraprobe-surfacer Store triangulated surface meshes of models for the edge of a dataset.


Results of paraprobe-distancer Store analytical distances between ions to a set of triangles.


Results of paraprobe-tessellator Store volume of all Voronoi cells about each ion in the dataset.


Results of paraprobe-nanochem Store all results of delocalization, isosurface, and interface detection algorithms, store all extracted triangulated surface meshes of found microstructural features, store composition profiles and corresponding geometric primitives (ROIs).


Results of paraprobe-intersector Store graph of microstructural features and relations/link identified between them.


Results of paraprobe-spatstat Store spatial correlation functions.


Results of paraprobe-clusterer Store results of cluster analyses.

Base Classes

We envision that the above-mentioned definitions can be useful not only to take inspiration for other software tools in the field of atom probe but also to support a discussion towards a stronger standardization of the vocabulary used. Therefore, we are happy for comments and suggestions.

The majority of data analyses in atom probe use a common set of operations and conditions on the input data even though this might not be immediately evident or might not have been so explicitly communicated in the literature. Some tools have a specific scope because of which algorithms are hardcoded to work for specific material systems. A typical example is a ranging tool which exploits that all the examples it is used for apply to a specific material and thus specific iontypes can be hardcoded.

Instead, we are convinced it is better to follow a more generalized approach. The following base classes and the above application definitions present examples how one can use NeXus for this.


A description from which file the reconstructed ion positions are imported.


A description from which file the ranging definitions are imported. The design of the ranging definitions is, thanks to NXion, so general that all possible nuclids can be considered, be they observationally stable, be they radioactive or transuranium nuclids.

A detailed inspection of spatial and other type of filters frequently used in analysis of atom probe data revealed that it is better to define atom-probe-agnostic, i.e. more general filters:


A proposal how a point cloud can be spatially filtered in a specific yet general manner. This base class takes advantage of NXcg_ellipsoid_set, NXcg_cylinder_set, and NXcg_hexahedron_set to cater for all of the most commonly used geometric primitives in atom probe.


A proposal for a filter that can also be used for specifying how entries like ions can be filtered via sub-sampling.


A proposal for a filter that can also be used for specifying how entries like ions can be filtered based on their type (ion species) or hit multiplicity.