Adding a New Dimension to Analysis

Dr. Oleg Lourie, Regional Manager A/P, EDAX

With every dimension, we add to the volume of data, we believe that we add a new perspective in our understanding and interpretation of the data. In microanalysis adding space or time dimensionality has led to the development of 3D compositional tomography and dynamic or in situ compositional experiments. 3D compositional tomography or 3D EDS is developing rapidly and getting wider acceptance, although it still presents challenges such as the photon absorption, associated with sample thickness and time consuming acquisition process, which requires a high level of stability, especially for TEM microscopes. After setting up a multi hour experiment in a TEM to gain a 3D compositional EDS map, one may wonder Is there any shortcut to getting a ‘quick’ glimpse into 3-dimensional elemental distribution? The good news is that there is one and compared to tilt series tomography, it can be a ‘snapshot’ type of the 3D EDS map.

3D distribution of Nd in steel.

3D distribution of Nd in steel.

To enable such 3D EDS mapping on the conceptual level we would need at least two identical 2D TEM EDS maps acquired with photons having different energy – so you can slide along the energy axis (adding a new dimension?) and use photon absorption as a natural yardstick to probe the element distribution along the X-ray path. Since the characteristic X-rays have discrete energies (K, L, M lines), it might work if you subtract the K line map from the L line or M line map to see an element distribution based on different absorption between K and L or M line maps. Ideally, one of EDS maps should be acquired with high energy X-rays, such as K lines for high atomic number elements, and another with low energy X-rays where the absorption has a significant effect, such as for example M lines. Indeed, in the case of elements with a high atomic number, the energies for K lines area ranged in tens of keV having virtually 0 absorption even in a thick TEM sample.

So, it all looks quite promising except for one important detail – current SDDs have the absorption efficiency for high energy photons close to actual 0. Even if you made your SDD sensor as large 150 mm2 it would still be 0. Increasing it to 200 mm2 would keep it steady close to 0. So, having a large silicon sensor for EDS does not seem to matter, what matters is the absorption properties of the sensor material. Here we add a material selection dimension to generate a new perspective for 3D EDS. And indeed, when we selected a CdTe EDS sensor we would able to acquire X-rays with the energies up to 100 keV or more.

To summarize, using a CdTe sensor will open an opportunity for a ‘snapshot’ 3D EDS technique, which can add more insight about elemental volume distribution, sample topography and will not be limited by a sample thickness. It would clearly be more practical for elements with high atomic numbers. Although it might be utilized for a wide yet selected range of samples, this concept could be a complementary and fast (!) alternative to 3D EDS tomography.

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