An ultrahigh-vacuum (UHV) furnace has been designed and constructed for the purpose of investigating the sintering behavior of ultrafine ceramic particles. The UHV furnace has three main chambers for particle production, sintering, and collection with additional facilities for an UHV transfer system. The furnace system achieves a base pressure of 4 × 10-7 Pa through the use of turbomolecular and ion pumps. The ultrafine particles of aluminum oxide are produced by the arc discharge method resulting in the formation of highly faceted particles in the size range of 20-50 nm. The particles are then carried into the tube furnace by a flowing gas stream where they sinter at elevated temperatures. The sintered samples are collected onto a specimen cartridge which is then transported under vacuum conditions to an UHV high-resolution electron microscope for structural characterization. The unique feature of this UHV furnace system is that one is able to perform sintering studies in a clean environment thereby minimizing the influence of contaminating species on the sintering behavior.
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