“What do we do?” – A Newcomer’s Perspective.

Shawn Wallace – Applications Engineer EDAX

As the new guy, I get to see everything in the office here in Mahwah for the first time. The thing that has impressed me the most is both the breadth of the material we cover and the depth in which we can do so. I have had the pleasure of diving in to cabinets and desiccators to look over literally decades of samples. Through that learning experience, I have needed to think about why these specimens are run here and just how important our job is in helping others understand what they have and how we can help them and their products be better by figuring out what their product really is.

One of the first samples that really stood out to me, mainly because of its size, is a brake pad.

Figure 1. Your everyday brake pad.

Figure 1. Your everyday brake pad.

Why would people want us to look at a brake pad? I had no idea until I started to think what properties a consumer would want in a brake pad. You want it to be able to withstand both high amounts of wear and high temperatures. Not many materials can do that by themselves and still be cheap enough for the average person to not really think about the cost. You can see just by looking at the picture that the brake pad is made of many phases. You need to understand where each phase is, how it is oriented, and how it changes with wear and tear. That is where the EDAX Applications lab comes in. Our products help the customer understand what they have and where it is.

While the brake pad stood out mainly for its sheer size, something much smaller caught my eye, a little pinkish square that turned out to be a pill.

Figure 2. A random pinkish pill on an SEM stub.

Figure 2. A random pinkish pill on an SEM stub.

I had another detective story to think about. As a geologist by training, I was out of my league, and while I had some ideas of why we would look at pharmaceuticals, I did what every good scientists does when they are not sure, search the literature. Ok, I really just googled it. What I found out made sense and our part in the process of quality control clicked. Think about what a pill is. It is mostly filler and some active ingredient. Both have their roles and how these two ingredients are physically related to each other matters. You need to know if the active ingredient is dispersed throughout the sample or maybe coated in another ingredient. All these matter on how long the pill lasts in your system. Also, you want to make sure that nothing out of the ordinary is in your product, and our products can do all this quickly, helping a company delivery a quality product, with us doing our part.

Finally, I found the newest sample in our lab, a nice piece of shell from a sea critter. I knew exactly why it was there and what it was there for as I had brought it in to help an old friend. It was a piece of a Nautilus shell, the amazing looking cephalopod. My job is to understand how the shell grows, how that growth relates to its life cycle, and how the shell can withstand extreme depths that this creature can do go. All these questions can be answered by looking at how the chemistry of the shell changes, how the grains are oriented, and how the grains interact with each other.

Figure 3. Piece of a Nautilus shell.

Figure 3. Piece of a Nautilus shell.

So many interesting questions to answer. So many interesting tools to help answer those questions. I think I am going to like it here.

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