This Time of Year

Matt Nowell, EBSD Product Manager, EDAX

My wife is a schoolteacher, and 2 of my boys are still at home in 6th and 8th grade, so at this time of year we start counting the number of days of school left and looking forward to summer vacation. This year is especially poignant to me, as my 8th grader is finishing 8th grade and graduating up to high school. Of course, this time of year is the time of graduations, and makes me think back to my graduation. I graduated in 1995, and immediately went to work at TSL. If my math is correct, that means it’s been 24 years directly involved in EBSD and the microanalysis world.

As my wife would tell you, I’m not always the best planner. I got into materials science because I was curious about making fishing rods. That dream lasted until an organic chemistry class and developing a fear of memorizing molecules. Luckily, I was able to work in the university Electron Microscopy lab as a student, where I had a great opportunity to learn to operate microscopes. That lead to the opportunity at TSL where they wanted someone with a material science background (check), SEM experience (check), and who wanted to travel (I’m close to a million miler so while I won’t claim to love travel, I’ve held up my end of the deal). I certainly didn’t know I’d still be working at the same place 24 years later, but it’s been an enjoyable ride watching the growth and development of the EBSD technique from this perspective.

In reminiscing, it’s easy to recognize all the changes that have occurred in this time: email, iPhones, faster EBSD cameras. I found it interesting though, there are several fundamental truths that really haven’t changed. For this blog, I thought I’d share some examples.

You can communicate a lot about a microstructure with an IPF orientation map. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and I firmly believe one of the driving forces behind the growth of EBSD is the pretty maps that can be created. An IPF map is colorful of course, with the colors representing crystallographic orientations relative to some sample reference frame, but it also often communicates information about the grain size and shape, any internal deformation, and preferred orientation (or texture).

IPF map of ECAP deformed copper

IPF map of ECAP deformed copper

Sample preparation is still key for EBSD. EBSD is a diffraction technique, so for it to be effective, we need diffraction to occur. The surface layers of the crystal must be in a condition to diffract for the EBSD pattern to form. This is often a hard one to accept. We look at hardware and software design to try to make as much of the EBSD workflow as easy as possible, but we don’t have control over this aspect of the process. I had to learn the importance of this too. My training in metallographic preparation was minimal. I did lots of experimentation with mechanical polishing and electropolishing in my first few years just to try and get a pattern. One of my favorite memories is buying a Pyrex baking dish and a tablecloth to hand polish a sample with colloidal silica for an important demo. We got patterns and we got the sale. I’d like to say we then made a cake, but we probably just went out for pizza instead.

Training courses are learning experiences for both the teachers and the students. I’ve been in the EDAX Mahwah home office this week, and the discussion of being an expert came up. There is plenty I know about EBSD, but also plenty I don’t really have good answers for. As I come back to certain questions over and over, I find myself refining my thoughts, perhaps getting closer to a solution I’m satisfied with. New users though, evaluate those answers through a different perspective. I still enjoy when I can help someone else learn and apply a new concept, and enjoy the process of learning to teach these concepts better.

Travel is always interesting. As I mentioned, when I signed up, I knew some travel would be involved. My initial job offering listed customers in London, Paris, and Australia. Suffice it to say, these were not the first places that I visited. I love seeing new places, exploring the sites, and meeting new people. As for the travel process, I’m grateful for in-flight WiFi and on-demand movies to help pass the time. I haven’t forgotten the days of waiting for the movie to start or having to pack 4-5 books to last through my trip. I’ve been invited over to the home of graduate students for homemade meals, fallen asleep on a Japanese train and woken up without knowing where I was and which direction I was going, been stuck in an elevator between floors, accidentally winning a trick-shot pool competition by leaving a dent in a wall of a customer’s basement (and having the trophy to show for it), been questioned by the Prague transit patrol, and had my wallet stolen in Paris. Sometimes trips are memorable, sometimes the hotel rooms blend all together, but it’s always interesting.

Tricky Shot Trophy

Tricky Shot Trophy

There are many more I can share, and I’m sure many more that will become more visible as my career continues to progress. I take great pleasure in sharing my acquired knowledge of EBSD with customers and seeing them learn and apply this to further their work. I hope everyone has a wonderful summer.

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