Metal whiskers photo gallery

Metal whiskers are tiny filaments that can form on the zinc and tin coatings of data center gear, including servers, racks and floor tiles. When whiskers break off, they can get into computers, creating sporadic problems or even causing power supplies to short out en masse. With the help of powerful microscopes, here's a closer look at metal whiskers in pictures.

metal whiskers

These whiskers are growing on the underside of an old zinc-plated floor tile. Most new tiles are immune to this hazard. While most metal whiskers are not visible to the naked eye, NASA was able to capture the whiskers in this image.

Photos courtesy of the NASA Electronic Parts and Packaging Program

whiskers in greater detail

A Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) image of the same floor tile shows the whiskers in greater detail.

Photos courtesy of the NASA Electronic Parts and Packaging Program

3mm long whiskers

Some of the whiskers on this tin-plated relay are nearly 3mm.

Photos courtesy of the NASA Electronic Parts and Packaging Program

whiskers on the relay

Another perspective shows additional whiskers on the relay.

Photos courtesy of the NASA Electronic Parts and Packaging Program

metal whiskers on the relay

The metal whiskers on the relay are not noticeable at a glance.

SEM image

In this SEM image, whiskers are growing on the tin-plated contacts of a capacitor.

Photos courtesy of the NASA Electronic Parts and Packaging Program

closer view of the contacts

A closer view of the contacts shows the tin whiskers in greater detail.

Photos courtesy of the NASA Electronic Parts and Packaging Program

whisker nearly 190 micrometers long (.19  mm)

This metal whisker on the contact is nearly 190 micrometers long (.19 mm).

Photos courtesy of the NASA Electronic Parts and Packaging Program

tin-plated integrated circuit

The whiskers on this tin-plated integrated circuit are not visible at a glance.

Photos courtesy of the NASA Electronic Parts and Packaging Program

metal whisker  growth

A close-up photograph of the integrated circuit’s contacts reveals metal whisker growth.

Photos courtesy of the NASA Electronic Parts and Packaging Program

tin whiskers on this integrated circuit

According to NASA, the tin whiskers on this integrated circuit caused a short-circuit that led to the failure of a system used by a power company. More information on that failure is available here .

Photos courtesy of the NASA Electronic Parts and Packaging Program

tin-plated motherboard test point

Metal whiskers are barely visible in this SEM image of a tin-plated motherboard test point.

Photos courtesy of the NASA Electronic Parts and Packaging Program

middle of the test point

In the middle of the test point, tin whiskers are easy to spot.

Photos courtesy of the NASA Electronic Parts and Packaging Program

tin  whiskers in detail

A closer view of the test point shows the tin whiskers in detail.

Photos courtesy of the NASA Electronic Parts and Packaging Program

zooming in on the whiskers

By zooming in on the whiskers in the left of the previous image, NASA researchers produced an even closer view of the test point’s tin whiskers.

Photos courtesy of the NASA Electronic Parts and Packaging Program