Jordan Moering, Director Sales & Service Europe, Gatan/EDAX
When I look around me, I feel surrounded by the consequences of the good work we are doing at Gatan/EDAX.
Sometimes, this is less obvious, like knowing that electron backscatter diffraction (EBSD) and energy dispersive x-ray spectroscopy (EDS) were likely used to evaluate the microstructural performance of the steel used in the bridge I’m driving over. Or appreciating that the vaccines used to mitigate the damage of COVID-19 were developed largely due to the performance of Gatan cameras used in cryo-EM.
Recently, I felt surrounded by reminders of our equipment on blockbuster movie billboards, as I was in awe of the perseverance and astounding capabilities of scientists at the dawn of the quantum revolution. I find it humbling and inspiring that researchers from around the world raced to better understand the subatomic physics of the atom. Since then, it’s fascinating to see how nuclear science has evolved for the betterment of society to address many important issues relating to health, the environment, and fuel.
Today, many of the labs featured in a recent blockbuster movie are still doing critical work in nuclear energy, advanced materials, and reactor design that benefits all of us. As you can imagine, many challenges plaguing researchers in the late 1930s are still prevalent today. Radioactive or “hot” materials are some of the most challenging samples to study, as the very properties of these samples (e.g., radiation) that give them their unique energy-generating abilities also make them incredibly difficult to examine. For example, many detectors used in analyzing x-ray radiation can be immeasurably destroyed in the presence of gamma, beta, or nuclear radiation. Nonetheless, scientists still need to understand the chemical or crystallographic makeup of these materials.
One challenge in studying these materials is the discrimination of plutonium and uranium in the composition of mixed-oxide (MOX) fuels. As it turns out, the overlapping x-ray peak characteristics of these two very different metals make it quite difficult or impossible to qualify some of these fuels properly. The answer to this puzzle is, of course, wavelength dispersive spectroscopy (WDS). Because WDS uses diffracting crystals to interrogate the x-ray spectrum wavelength by wavelength (or energy by energy), it can present sensitivities up to 10x higher than traditional EDS alone. As a result, a single U/Pu peak that shows up in the EDS spectrum can be resolved to show two, three, or even more peaks that are all convoluted together. It is a very real statement to say that modern nuclear science has a critical need for WDS and other forms of analytical components in the scanning electron microscope (SEM).
Personally, I find this incredibly fulfilling and exciting, and hopefully, you’ll feel the same.