Elemental and structural analysis

In many production or R&D settings, X-rays can be used to characterize materials and samples. X-ray analysis is exceptionally suitable to analyze structures and elements at the atomic level. X-ray fluorescence (XRF) and X-ray diffraction (XRD) are two out of a few main techniques how X-rays can be used to help characterize your sample.

What do you analyze with X-ray fluorescence?

With the help of XRF, we analyze the elements that are present in materials. Take as an example iron. Nowadays, there are hundreds of different types of steel. Normal iron will get rusty in time but, when you add 18% chrome, and 8% nickel, you will get stainless steel. But how can you determine the right composition of steel -18% chrome, 8% nickel- and ensure consistency when it is liquid hot steel in a steelworks?

Easy, you pick a sample, let it cool down, and send it to an XRF analyzer which can easily measure the composition. When this composition matches the specification, the liquid steel can be poured, and unnecessary heating is avoided. Saving costs on power consumption makes the production process more cost-effective and spares the environment. You can use XRF not only for the analysis of steel but also for many other materials like:

  • air filters
  • plastics,
  • petrochemicals,
  • building materials,
  • chips in electronics,
  • minerals,
  • metals

and many, many more.

Why do we analyze materials using X-ray diffraction?

XRD enables us to detect the three-dimensional arrangement of the atoms in a solid crystal. Take for example carbon. Both diamonds and graphite are entirely made of carbon but they have very different properties. Graphite is rather soft, can be used as a lubricant, and conducts electricity. Diamond, on the contrary, is the hardest material on earth and does not conduct electricity. How can these different properties be explained? Analysis by X-ray diffraction gives the answer. If we put the sample in an X-ray diffractometer and irradiate it with X-rays, we can detect the reflected radiation. Dedicated software can reveal the three-dimensional arrangement of the atoms in both materials. Carbon atoms in the soft graphite form layers with only weak bonds to the neighboring layers. Carbon atoms in diamonds, however, form strong bonds to four neighboring atoms and are closely packed in all three dimensions. XRD can be used for the structural analysis of many different materials like:

  • Batteries: how does the structure of anode and cathode change during a charge/discharge cycle?
  • Metal organic frameworks: has my target MOF has been synthesized correctly?
  • 3D printing: what are the characteristics of my raw material affecting the hardness, strength and fatigue life of my final component?
  • Pharmaceuticals: does my medication contain the prescribed substance?
  • Building materials: for example, does the cement consist of the specified compounds?
  • Minerals: what minerals are mined?
  • Metals: is the metal stress free or is there a chance of a fracture by fatigue?

and many, many more.

 

Posted by: Malvern Panalytical – www,materials-talks.com

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