Month: July 2017

XRF: Old Tech Adapting to New Times

Andrew Lee, Senior Applications Engineer, EDAX

X-rays were only discovered by Wilhelm Roentgen in 1895, but by the early 1900’s, research into X-rays was so prolific that half the Nobel Prizes in physics between 1914 to 1924 were awarded in this relatively new field. These discoveries set the stage for 1925, when the first sample was irradiated with X-rays. We’ve immortalized these early founders by naming formulas and coefficients after them. Names like Roentgen and Moseley seem to harken back to a completely different era of science. But here we are today a century later, still using and teaching those very same principles and formulas when we talk about XRF. This is because the underlying physics has not really changed much, and yet, XRF remains as relevant today as it ever was. You can’t say that for something like telephone technology.

XRF has traditionally been used for bulk elemental analysis, associated with large collimators, and pressed pellet samples. For many decades, these commercial units were not the most sophisticated instruments (although Apollo 15 and 16 in 1971 and 1972 included bulk XRF units). Modern hardware and software innovations to the core technique have allowed XRF to adapt to its surroundings in a way, becoming a useful instrument in many applications where XRF previously had little to offer. Micro-XRF was born this way, combining the original principles with newer hardware and software advancements. In fact, micro-XRF is included on the new NASA rover, scheduled for launch to Mars in 2020.

Biological/life sciences is one of those fields where possibilities are now opening as XRF technology progresses. A great example that comes to mind for both professional and personal reasons is the study of neurodegenerative diseases. Many such diseases, such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), exhibit an imbalance in metal ions such as Cu, Fe, and Zn in the human body. While healthy cells maintain “metal homeostasis”, individuals with these neurodegenerative diseases cannot properly regulate, which leads to toxic reactive oxygen species. For example, reduced Fe and Cu levels can catalyze the production of hydroxyl radicals which lead to damaged DNA and cell death. Imaging the distribution of biological metals in non-homogenized tissue samples is critical in understanding the role of these metals, and hopefully finding a cure. The common language between the people who studied physics versus the people who studied brain diseases? Trace metal distribution!

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to analyze a few slices of diseased human tissue in the EDAX Orbis micro-XRF (Figure 1 and 2), working towards proving this concept. Although the results were not conclusive either way, it was still very interesting to be able to detect and see the distribution of trace Cu near the bottom edge of the tissue sample. XRF provided unique advantages to the analysis process, and provided the necessary elemental sensitivity while maintaining high spatial resolution. This potential has since been recognized by other life science applications, such as mapping nutrient intake in plant leaves or seed coatings.

Figure 1. Stitched montage video image of the diseased human tissue slice, with mapped area highlighted in red. Total sample width ~25 mm.

Figure 1. Stitched montage video image of the diseased human tissue slice, with mapped area highlighted in red. Total sample width ~25 mm.

Figure 2. Overlaid element maps: Potassium{K(K) in green} and Copper {Cu(K) in yellow} from mapped area in Figure 1, showing a clear area of higher Cu concentration. Total mapped width ~7.6 mm.

Figure 2. Overlaid element maps: Potassium{K(K) in green} and Copper {Cu(K) in yellow} from mapped area in Figure 1, showing a clear area of higher Cu concentration. Total mapped width ~7.6 mm.

Sometimes, the application may not be obvious, or it may seem completely unrelated. But with a little digging, common ground can be found between the analysis goal and what the instrument can do. And if the technology continues to develop, there seems to be no limit to where XRF can be applied, whether it be outwards into space, or inwards into the human biology.

Aimless Wanderin’ in 3D (Part 3)

Dr. Stuart Wright, Senior Scientist, EDAX

In my research on the origins of the term texture to describe preferred lattice orientation I spent some time looking at one of the classic texts on the subject: Bunge’s “red bible” as we called it in our research group in grad school – Texture Analysis in Materials Science Mathematical Methods (1969). As I was reading I found an interesting passage as it relates to where we are with EBSD today:

“In a polycrystalline material crystallites of different shape, size and orientation are generally present. It can thus also occur that regions of different orientation are not separated from one another by unequivocally defined grain boundaries, but that, on the contrary, the orientation changes continuously from one point to another. If one desires to completely describe the crystal orientation of a polycrystalline material, one must specify the relevant orientation g for each point with coordinates x, y, z within the sample:

g=g(x,y,z)           (3.1)

If one writes g in EULER’s angles, this mean explicitly

φ_1=φ_1 (x,y,z);  Φ=Φ(x,y,z);  φ_2=φ_2 (x,y,z);           (3.2)

One thus requires three functions, each of these variables, which are also discontinuous at grain boundaries. Such a representation of the crystal orientation is very complicated. Where therefore observe that it has as yet been experimentally determined in only a very few cases (see, for example, references 139-141, 200-203), and that its mathematical treatment is so difficult that it is not practically applicable.”

I don’t quote these lines to detract in any way from the legacy of Professor Bunge in the field of texture analysis. I did not know Professor Bunge well but in all my interactions with him he was always very patient with my questions and generous with his time. Professor Bunge readily embraced new technology as it advanced texture analysis forward including automated EBSD. I quote this passage to show that the ideas behind what we might today call 3D texture analysis were germinated very early on. The work on Orientation Coherence by Brent Adams I quoted in Part 2 of this series was one of the first to mathematically build on these ideas. Now with serial sectioning via the FIB or other means coupled with EBSD as well as high-energy x-ray diffraction it is possible to realize the experimental side of these ideas in a, perhaps not routine but certainly, tractable manner.

A schematic of the evolution from pole figure-based ODF analysis to EBSD-based orientation maps to 3D texture data.

Others have anticipated these advancements as well. In chapter 2 of Rudy Wenk’s 1985 book entitled Preferred Orientation in Deformed Metal and Rocks: An introduction to Modern Texture Analysis it states:

“Pole figures and fabric diagrams provide information only about the orientation of crystals. It may be desirable to know the relation between the spatial distribution of grains and grain shape with respect to crystallographic orientation. Orientation relations between neighboring grains further defined the fabric and help to elucidate its significance.”

But let us return to the theme of aimless wanderin’s in texture terminology. The title for Chapter 4 of Bunge’s book is “Expansion of Orientation Distribution Functions in Series of Generalized Spherical Harmonics”. This chapter describes a solution the determination of the three-dimensional ODF (orientation distribution function) from two-dimensional pole figures. The chapter has a sub-title “Three-Dimensional Textures”. The three dimensions in this chapter of Bunge’s book are in orientation space (the three Euler Angles). What we call today a 3D texture is actually a 6D description with three dimensions in orientation space and three spatial dimensions (e.g. x, y and z). And those working with High-Energy x-rays have also characterized spatially resolved orientation distributions for in-situ experiments thus adding a seventh dimension of time, temperature, strain, …

It is nice to know in the nearly 50 years since Bunge’s book was published that what can sometimes appear to be aimless wanderin’s with mixed up terminology has actually lead us to higher dimensions of understanding. But, before we take too much credit for these advances in the “metallurgical arts”, as it says on the Google Scholar home page we “stand on the shoulders of giants” who envisioned and laid the groundwork for these advances.