Care and Upkeep of Your Standards

Shawn Wallace, Applications Engineer, EDAX

As I prepared for some analytical work yesterday, I had to repolish a standard block. This made me think about how important these little blocks are and how often they are not cared for properly. With that in mind, I thought it might be useful to pass on some little nuggets of information I have gathered over the years from many sources.

The most important thing about caring for a block is knowing what is in it. Standard blocks can be purchased as a whole or personally made. No matter what, you need to know what you have! To do so, you should keep several copies of the following for every standard you have:

  • Optical light images of the whole block
  • SEM Montage image of the whole block (BSE and SE)
  • Individual image of each standard material
  • Composition of each standard material with sources
  • Notes on each standard

Figure 1. Each of our standard blocks has a name and a duplicate document. This packet has optical, BSE, and SE images of the standard. This allows us to quickly find the standard we want while having all the information easily accessible in hand.

Each of these above items is important. You want to keep both a visual record of your standards, a record of what it is and the condition that it is in, to allow you to track any issues that may pop up (Figure 1). Therefore, having a note section is important. You may find that one of the areas of your standard gives anomalous values and should be avoided. You want to make sure this information is easily accessible to everyone that uses the standard. I suggest scanning and keeping electronic copies in a shared folder on your desktop.

Besides the documentation aspect of care, physical care is just as critical. Most commercial standard blocks come pre-polished and carbon-coated. Over time, both of those will degrade and need to be redone. Usually, the carbon coating damages first, but you also need to check for burn marks and other beam damage done to the standard material itself. When repolishing and recoating, I usually do a solid 10 minute repolish with diamond paste. This removes enough material to eliminate the carbon coating and get new clean, undamaged surfaces while not change the physical appearance all that much. I try my best to avoid using an Al-based polishing material, as they tend to stick around too much and can interfere with my analysis on elements I use. With carbon-based polishing material, it is much easier to see the effects of the carbon. In the end, I do not tend to do quant work on carbon that much, while I often try to quantify aluminum. Whatever you do, document what was done. It can help you both head off and understand issues that may present.

While physically handling your sample, it shouldn’t need to be said, but you should never be touching your sample with ungloved hands. Your oils are bad for both the SEM cleanliness and the sample cleanliness. Avoid any sort of colloidal products with standards, as they do tend to flake with age. When not in use, samples should be held in a desiccator with good desiccant (Figure 3).

Figure 3. A good desiccator should have a rubber molding to help it hold a seal at a minimum. You should try to keep it under vacuum for the best results. While taking this picture, I noticed I should dry my desiccant or replace it. I have seen some users keep a small plastic bag of fresh desiccant in the desiccator as a quick visual reference.

There are many other tips I can think of sharing, but to wrap it up, standards are valuable in our industry. A good, well cared for standard will last multiple careers while giving consistent results time after time. Take the time to keep your standards in the best condition, and they will repay your time spent on them tenfold.

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