Month: February 2021

Boxes

Dr. Stuart Wright, Senior Scientist, EDAX

It has been a tough year for all of us – at times, I get cabin fever and feel boxed-in. The recent holiday break was a pleasant diversion. Even though we weren’t able to gather like we usually do, we did get to spend some time with a couple of our grandkids. As we opened gifts, per the usual stereotype, our youngest grandson had more fun playing with the boxes than the toys in them! Since today’s blog is on boxes, Figure 1 shows a picture of our granddaughter atop an old toy box. Yes, she is more than willing to pose for the camera.

Figure 1. My granddaughter atop a toy box I built many years ago.

So why the picture of a toy box? That toy box is 32 years old and has a tie-in to the development of EBSD (since I am getting older, I’m allowed to be a bit nostalgic.)

I joined Professor Brent Adams’ group as an undergrad at BYU in 1985. Brent was working on the orientation coherence function (OCF) at the time, which is a statistical description of crystallographic orientation arrangement within a polycrystalline microstructure. One of the Ph.D. students, T. T. Wang, went off to what was then the Alcoa Technical Center to make orientation measurements using selected area diffraction – a painstakingly slow process. He returned with a large set of Euler angles and a box of micrographs with numbered spots to indicate where the orientation measurements were from. My assignment was to digitize those micrographs – both to manually point-and-click each grain vertex and to write software to use those vertices to reconstruct and visualize the digital microstructure. Figure 2 shows one example from the set of 9 section planes. The entire set contained 5,439 grains and 21,221 boundaries. It was a lot of tedious work.

Figure 2. Digitized microstructure from aluminum tubing for work reported in B. L. Adams, P. R. Morris, T. T. Wang, K. S. Willden and S. I. Wright (1987). “Description of orientation coherence in polycrystalline materials.” Acta Metallurgica 35: 2935-2946.

When Brent saw David Dingley’s presentation on EBSD at ICOTOM in 1987, he got very excited as he realized how much it could help with our group’s data collection needs. We got the first EBSD system in the US shortly after ICOTOM. It was installed on an old SEM in the botany department. The system was all computer-controlled, but it still required a user to manually (with the mouse) identify zone axes in each EBSD pattern to be indexed. It was a huge step forward for our research group. Brent quickly envisioned a fully automated system for site-specific orientation measurements. In 1988, Professor Adams moved to Yale University. I was fortunate to be invited to be a member of the research team that accompanied him. My wife and I boxed up our belongings and moved our small family of four from Utah to Connecticut for our new adventure.

The first few weeks at Yale were spent cleaning out an old laboratory space (some items even went to the Yale museum) in preparation for receiving our new CamScan SEM and the next generation EBSD system from David Dingley. When the SEM boxes arrived at the lab, we were very excited to see the microscope uncrated and installed. It was great to have our own microscope to work with, and we waited in eager anticipation for David’s arrival to install the new EBSD system. Unfortunately, I don’t have many photos from the Yale lab, but Figure 3 shows one with three of my colleagues in front of the SEM.

Figure 3. Brent Adams, John Hack, and Karsten Kunze in the SEM lab at Yale.

After everything was installed, there were a lot of wooden boards left over from all the crates in which the equipment was shipped. Being the stereotypical poor-starving student, I saw the wood as an opportunity. I diverted the bigger pieces of wood to my car instead of the dumpster and took them to our apartment. It was enough wood to build a toy box for each of our two kids (Figure 4).

Figure 4. Building a toy box with my kids while at Yale.

A picture of the SEM at BYU (Brent returned to BYU after I graduated in 1992 and brought the system with him back to BYU) can be seen in Figure 5. Note all the boxes surrounding the instrument. In the very first system, instead of controlling the SEM beam, we moved the sample under a stationary beam using piezoelectric stages. In this photo, the camera was fixed so that it was always inserted into the microscope chamber, so there wasn’t a box to control the slide yet. Eventually, the stages were replaced with beam control, the SEM image could be viewed live on the workstation monitor, the camera was controlled through the computer, the image processing was done in the computer, the camera slide was controlled in software until we reached the modern, streamlined systems we are accustomed to today.

Figure 5. Photo of the first fully automated EBSD system in a lab at BYU (originally at Yale but later moved to BYU).

The old SEM was scrapped several years ago, but the two toy boxes are still in use and filled with “stuffies” as my granddaughter likes to say. So, just like the presents under the Christmas tree, the SEM boxes are still providing entertainment long after the toys they once held have been recycled into new ones .