Teaching is learning

Dr. René de Kloe, Applications Specialist, EDAX

Figure 1. Participants of my first EBSD training course in Grenoble in 2001.

Everybody is learning all the time. You start as a child at home and later in school and that never ends. In your professional career you will learn on the job and sometimes you will get the opportunity to get a dedicated training on some aspect of your work. I am fortunate that my job at EDAX involves a bit of this type of training for our customers interested in EBSD. Somehow, I have already found myself teaching for a long time without really aiming for it. Already as a teenager when I worked at a small local television station in The Netherlands I used to teach the technical things related to making television programs like handling cameras, lighting, editing – basically everything just as long as it was out of the spotlight. Then during my geology study, I assisted in teaching students a variety of subjects ranging from palaeontology to physics and geological fieldwork in the Spanish Pyrenees. So, unsurprisingly, shortly after joining EDAX in 2001 when I was supposed to simply participate in an introductory EBSD course (fig 1) taught by Dr. Stuart Wright in Grenoble, France, I quickly found myself explaining things to the other participants instead of just listening.

Teaching about EBSD often begins when I do a presentation or demonstration for someone new to the technique. And the capabilities of EBSD are such that just listing the technical specifications of an EBSD system to a new customer does not do it justice. Later when a system has been installed I meet the customers again for the dedicated training courses and workshops that we organise and participate in all over the world.

Figure 2. EBSD IPF map of Al kitchen foil collected without any additional specimen preparation. The colour-coding illustrates the extreme deformation by rolling.

In such presentations, of course we talk about the basics of the method and the characteristics of the EDAX systems, but then it always moves on to how it can help understand the materials and processes that the customer is working with. There, teaching starts working the other way as well. With every customer visit I learn something more about the physical world around us. Sometimes this is about a fundamental understanding of a physical process that I have never even heard of.

At other times it is about ordinary items that we see or use in our daily lives such as aluminium kitchen foil, glass panes with special coatings, or the structure of biological materials like eggs, bone, or shells. Aluminium foil is a beautiful material that is readily available in most labs and I use it occasionally to show EBSD grain and texture analysis when I do not have a suitable polished sample with me (fig 2) and at some point, a customer explained to me in detail how it was produced in a double layer back to back to get one shiny and one matte side. And that explained why it produces EBSD patterns without any additional preparation. Something new learned again.

Figure 3. IPF map of austenitic steel microstructure prepared by additive manufacturing.

A relatively new development is additive manufacturing or 3D printing where a precursor powdered material is melted into place by a laser to create complex components/shapes as a single piece. This method produces fantastically intricate structures (fig 3) that need to be studied to optimise the processing.

With every new application my mind starts turning to identify specific functions in the software that would be especially relevant to its understanding. In some cases, this then turns into a collaborative effort to produce scientific publications on a wide variety of subjects e.g. on zeolite pore structures (1, fig (4)), poly-GeSi films (2, fig (5)), or directional solidification by biomineralization of mollusc shells (3).

Figure 4. Figure taken from ref.1 showing EBSD analysis of zeolite crystals.

Figure 5. Figure taken from ref.2 showing laser crystallised GeSi layer on substrate.

Such collaborations continuously spark my curiosity and it is because of these kinds of discussions that after 17 years I am still fascinated with the EBSD technique and its applications.

This fascination also shows during the EBSD operator schools that I teach. The teaching materials that I use slowly evolve with time as the systems change, but still the courses are not simply repetitions. Each time customers bring their own materials and experiences that we use to show the applications and discuss best practices. I feel that it is true that you only really learn how to do something when you teach it.

This variation in applications often enables me to fully show the extent of the analytical capabilities in the OIM Analysis™ software and that is something that often gets lost in the years after a system has been installed. I have seen many times that when a new system is installed, the users invest a lot of time and effort in getting familiar with the system in order to get the most out of it. However, with time the staff that has been originally trained on the equipment moves on and new people are introduced to electron microscopy and all that comes with it. The original users then train their successor in the use of the system and inevitably something is lost at this point.

When you are highly familiar with performing your own analysis, you tend to focus on the bits of the software and settings that you need to perform your analysis. The bits that you do not use fade away and are not taught to the new user. This is something that I see regularly during the training course that I teach. Of course, there are the new functions that have been implemented in the software that users have not seen before, but people who have been using the system for years and are very familiar with the general operation always find new ways of doing things and discover new functions that could have helped them with past projects during the training courses. During the latest EBSD course in Germany in September a participant from a site where they have had EBSD for many years remarked that he was going to recommend coming to a course to his colleagues who have been using the system for a long time as he had found that the system could do much more than he had imagined.

You learn something new every day.

1) J Am Chem Soc. 2008 Oct 15;130(41):13516-7. doi: 10.1021/ja8048767. Epub 2008 Sep 19.
2) ECS Journal of Solid State Science and Technology, 1 (6) P263-P268 (2012)
3) Adv Mater. 2018 Sep 21:e1803855. doi: 10.1002/adma.201803855. [Epub ahead of print]

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