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This article covers the three most popular techniques used to characterize the very outermost layers of solid surfaces: Auger electron spectroscopy (AES), X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS), and time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometry (TOF-SIMS). Some of the more important attributes are listed for preliminary insight into the strengths and limitations of these techniques for chemical characterization of surfaces. The article describes the basic theory behind each of the different techniques, the types of data produced from each, and some typical applications. Also discussed are the different types of samples that can be analyzed and the special sample-handling procedures that must be implemented when preparing to do failure analysis using these surface-sensitive techniques. Data obtained from different material defects are presented for each of the techniques. The examples presented highlight the typical data sets and strengths of each technique.

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