Dr. Felix Reinauer, Applications Specialist, EDAX
…L. A. – this is the title of a popular song from Joshua Kadison which one may like or dislike but at least three words in this title describe a significant part of my work at EDAX. Truth be told I’ve never been to Los Angeles, but as an application specialist traveling in general is a big part of my job. I´m usually on the move all over Europe meeting customers for trainings or attending exhibitions and workshops. This part of my job gives me the opportunity to meet with lots of people from different places and have fruitful discussions at the same time. If I am lucky, there is sometimes even some time left for sightseeing. The drawback of the frequent traveling is being separated from family and friends during these times.
Nowadays it is easy to stay in touch thanks to social media. You send a quick text message or make phone calls, but these are short-term. And here we get back to the title of this post and Joshua Kadison´s pop song, because quite some time ago I started the tradition of sending picture postcards from the places I travel to. And yes, I am talking about the real ones made from cardboard, documenting the different cities and countries I get to visit. Additionally, these cards are sweet notes highly appreciated by the addressee and are often pinned to a wall in our apartment for a period of time.
Within the last couple of years, I notice that it is getting harder to find postcards, this is especially true in the United States. Sometimes keeping on with my tradition feels like an Iron Man challenge. First, I run around to find nice picture postcards, then I have to look for stamps and the last challenge is finding a mailbox. Finally, all these exercises must be done in a limited span of time because the plane is leaving, the customer is waiting, or the shops are closing. But it is still worth it.
It is not only the picture on the front side, which is interesting, each postcard holds one or more stamps – tiny pieces of artfully designed paper – as well. Postage stamps were first introduced in Great Britain in 1840. The first one showed the profile of Queen Victoria and is called “Penny Black” due to the black background and its value. Thousands of different designs have been created ever since attracting collectors all over the world. Sadly, this tradition might be fading. Nowadays the quick and easy way of printed stamps from a machine with only the value on top seems to be becoming the norm. But the small stamps are often beautiful to look at and are full of interesting information, either about historical events, famous persons or remarkable locations.
For me, as a chemist I was also curious about the components of the stamps. Like a famous painting, investigated by XRF to collect information about the pigments and how the artist used them. For the little pieces of art, the SEM in combination with EDS is predestinated to investigate them in low vacuum mode without damaging them. The stamps I looked at are from my trips to Sweden, Great Britain, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic. In addition, I added one German stamp as a tribute to one of the most important chemists, Justus von Liebig after whom the Justus-Liebig University in Gießen is named, where he was professor (1824 – 1852) and I did my Ph. D. (a few years later).
All the measurements shown below were done under the same conditions using an acceleration voltage of 20 kV, with a pressure of 30 Pa and 40x magnification. With the multifield map option the entire stamp area was covered, using a single field resolution of 64×48 each and 128 frames.
The EDS results show that modern paper is a composite material. The basic cellulose fibers are covered with a layer of calcium carbonate to ensure a good absorption of the different pigments used. This can be illustrated with the help of phase mappings. Even after many kilometers of travelling and all the hands treating the postcards all features of the stamps are still intact and can be detected. The element mappings show that the colors are not only based on organic compounds, but the existence of metal ions indicate a use of inorganic pigments. Typical elements detected were Al, S, Fe, Ti, Mn and others. The majority of the analysis work I do for EDAX and with EDAX customers is very specialized and involves materials, which would not be instantly familiar to non-scientists. It was fun to be able to use the same EDS analysis techniques on recognizable, everyday objects and to come up with some interesting results.