A focused ion-beam milling instrument, commonly utilized in the semiconductor industry for failure analysis and IC repair, is capable of cross-sectioning nodular defects. Utilizing the instrument's scanning on beam, high-resolution imaging of the seeds that initiate nodular defect growth is possible. In an attempt to understand the origins of these seeds, HfO2/SiO2 and Ta2O5/SiO2 coatings were prepared by a variety of coating vendors and different deposition processes including e-beam, magnetron sputtering, and ion beam sputtering. By studying the shape, depth, and composition of the seed, inferences of its origin can be drawn. The boundaries between the nodule and thin film provide insight into the mechanical stability of the nodule. Significant differences in the seed composition, geometry of nodular growth and mechanical stability of the defects for sputtered versus e-beam coatings are reported. Differences in seed shape were also observed from different coating vendors using e-beam deposition of HfO2/SiO2 coatings.© (1996) COPYRIGHT SPIE--The International Society for Optical Engineering. Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.