Conferences and trade shows

My Turn

Dr. Stuart Wright, Senior Scientist, EDAX

One of the first scientific conferences I had the good fortune of attending was the Eighth International Conference on Textures of Materials (ICOTOM 8) held in 1987 in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I was an undergraduate student at the time and had recently joined Professor Brent Adams’ research group at Brigham Young University (BYU) in Provo, Utah. It was quite an introduction to texture analysis. Most of the talks went right over my head but the conference would affect the direction my educational and professional life would take.

Logos of the ICOTOMs I've attended

Logos of the ICOTOMs I’ve attended

Professor Adams’ research at the time was focused on orientation correlation functions. While his formulation of the equations used to describe these correlations was coming along nicely, the experimental side was quite challenging. One of my tasks for the research group was to explore using etch pits to measure orientations on a grain-by-grain basis. It was a daunting proposition for an inexperienced student. At the ICOTOM in Santa Fe, Brent happened to catch a talk by a Professor from the University of Bristol named David Dingley. David introduced the ICOTOM community to Electron Backscatter Diffraction (EBSD) in the SEM. Brent immediately saw this as a potential experimental solution to his vision for a statistical description of the spatial arrangement of grain orientations in polycrystalline microstructures.

At ICOTOMs through the years

At ICOTOMs through the years

After returning to BYU, Brent quickly went about preparing to get David to BYU to install the first EBSD system in North America. Instead of etch pits, my Master’s degree became comparing textures measured by EBSD and those measured with traditional X-Ray Pole Figures. I had the opportunity to make some of the first EBSD measurements with David’s system. From those early beginnings, Brent’s group moved to Yale University where we successfully built an automated EBSD system laying the groundwork for the commercial EBSD systems we use today.

I’ve had the good fortune to attend every ICOTOM since that one in Santa Fe over 30 years ago now. The ICOTOM community has helped germinate and incubate EBSD and continues to be a strong supporter of the technique. This is evident in the immediate rise in the number of texture studies undertaken using EBSD immediately after EBSD was introduced to the ICOTOM community.

The growth in EBSD in terms of the percentage of EBSD related papers at the ICOTOMs

The growth in EBSD in terms of the percentage of EBSD related papers at the ICOTOMs

Things have a way of coming full circle and now I am part of a group of three (with David Fullwood of BYU and my colleague Matt Nowell of EDAX) whose turn it is to host the next ICOTOM in St George Utah in November 2017. The ICOTOM meetings are held every three years and generally rotate between Europe, the Americas and Asia. At ICOTOM 18 we will be celebrating 25 years since our first papers were published using OIM.
It is a humbling opportunity to pay back the texture community, in just a small measure, for the impact my friends and colleagues within this community have had both on EBSD and on me personally. It is exciting to consider what new technologies and scientific advances will be germinated by the interaction of scientists and engineers in the ICOTOM environment. All EBSD users would benefit from attending ICOTOM and I invite you all to join us next year in Utah’s southwest red rock country for ICOTOM 18! (

Some of the spectacular scenery in southwest Utah (Zion National Park)

Some of the spectacular scenery in southwest Utah (Zion National Park)

How To Get the Maximum Benefit from Visiting the Show Floor at a Microanalysis Conference.

Dr. Patrick Camus, Director of Research and Innovation, EDAX

Control 2016

This is the time of year when many analysts are scrambling to finalize details for the Microscopy & Microanalysis Conference – to be held this year in Columbus, OH. We too are striving to present our products in the best light for attendees to evaluate.

As conference attendees, you may well be coming with the task of evaluating and comparing software and equipment from a variety of vendors. Many will also be booking demonstrations, provided by the very capable application specialists of the representative companies. Their job, as well as mine, is to sell you the best product available, which obviously is from EDAX (wink, wink).

But what is your task for the week, and how should you prepare? I have a few universal topics that you might like to consider before you even hit the show floor.

Your primary task is to get enough information to make an educated decision about the best system at the fairest price to benefit the customers of your lab. That system may be the BEST IN THE WORLD system or it may have the absolute lowest price, but knowing the criteria before seeing the competing systems will help in balancing the cost and the benefits and select the best system for your lab.

Below I will present some criteria for system selection. I will use x-ray microanalysis systems as examples because that is the equipment that EDAX sells, but the approach is universal for all equipment purchases.

  • Understand and appreciate all the system specifications because they are the best indicators of the system quality and performance, but emphasize those that that you currently employ or realistically could implement. For instance, if you have a low-level SEM, do you or will you operate at the maximum beam current of the system? How often do you really operate under the conditions necessary to obtain resolutions specifications? Make sure you understand how the system operates AWAY from the conditions used for specifications. These deviations may be more indicative of how your users operate and how the system will be useful for them.
  • Appreciate aesthetics, but look beneath the system “skin” to actual technical performance substance. Do your current operators work that way or can they be retrained to work that way? Is the technology truly new or just re-skinned? The workflow may demo well, but do your operators work in that manner?
  • Ask about your projected local service engineers. Ask for an interview with them before the sale. Over the lifetime of the system, you will probably work with them more than anyone else at the company.
  • During a demo, perform tests under your typical or expected operating conditions to get a feeling for real-world performance in your lab. But also ask for suggested optimized conditions for better performance for future analyses. How much training is included or can be upgraded? Would training at your site or at the vendor site be more effective for those involved?

These are just a few of the topics that you should consider. This is a lot of preparation work to do before you even hit the show floor, but the answers to these topics will make your system selection that much more satisfying in the long run. And job satisfaction for you and your users goes a long way!

Cleaning Up After EBSD 2016

Matt Nowell, EBSD Product Manager, EDAX

I recently had the opportunity to attend the EBSD 2016 meeting, the 5th topical conference of the Microanalysis Society (MAS) in a series on EBSD, held this year at the University of Alabama. This is a conference I am particularly fond of, as I have been able to attend and participate in all 5 of these meetings that have been held since 2008. This conference has grown significantly since then, from around 100 participants in 2008 to around 180 this year. This year there were both basic and advanced tutorials, with lab time for both topics. There have also been more opportunities to show live equipment, with demonstrations available all week for the first time. This is of course great news for EDAX, but I did feel a little badly that Shawn Wallace, our EBSD Applications guru in the US, had to stay in the lab while I was able to listen to the talks all week. For anyone interested or concerned, we did manage to make sure he had something to eat and some exposure to daylight periodically.

This conference also strongly encourages student participation, and offers scholarships (I want to say around 70) that allow students to travel and attend this meeting. It’s something I try to mention to academic users all the time. I’m at a stage in my career now that I am seeing that people, who were students when I trained them years ago, are now professors and professionals throughout the world. I’ve been fortunate to make and maintain friendships with many of them, and look forward to seeing what this year’s students will do with their EBSD knowledge.

There were numerous interesting topics and applications including transmission-EBSD, investigating cracking, both hydrogen and fatigue induced, HR-EBSD, nuclear materials (the sample prep requirements from a safety perspective were amazing), dictionary-based pattern indexing, quartz bridges in rock fractures, and EBSD on dinosaur fossils. There were also posters on correlation with Nanoindentation, atom probe specimen preparation, analysis of asbestos, ion milling specimen preparation, and tin whisker grain analysis. The breadth of work was great to see.

One topic in particular was the concept of cleaning up EBSD data. EBSD data clean up must be used carefully. Generally, I use a Grain CI Standardization routine, and then create a CI >0.1 partition to evaluate the data quality. This approach does not change any of my measured orientations, and gives me a baseline to evaluate what I should do next. My colleague Rene uses this image, which I find appropriate at this stage:

Figure 1: Cleanup ahead.

Figure 1: Cleanup ahead.

The danger here, of course, is that further cleanup will change the orientations away from the initial measurement. This has to be done with care and consideration. I mention all this because at the EBSD 2016 meeting, I presented a poster on NPAR and people were asking about the difference is between NPAR and standard cleanup. I thought this blog would be a good place to address the question.

With NPAR, we average each EBSD pattern with all of the neighboring patterns to improve the signal to noise ratio (SNR) of the averaged pattern prior to indexing. Pattern averaging to improve SNR is not new to EBSD, we used this with analog SIT cameras years ago, but moved away from it as a requirement as digital CCD sensors improved pattern quality. However, if you are pushing the speed and performance of the system, or working with samples with low signal contrast, pattern averaging is useful. The advantage of the spatial averaging with NPAR is that one does not have the time penalty associated with collecting multiple frames in a single location. A schematic of this averaging approach is shown here:

Figure 2: NPAR.

Figure 2: NPAR.

As an experiment, I used our Inconel 600 standard (nominally recrystallized), and found a triple junction. I then collected multiple patterns from each grain with a fast camera setting with corresponding lower SNR EBSD pattern. Representative patterns are shown below.

Figure 3: Grain Patterns.

Figure 3: Grain Patterns.

Now if one averages patterns from the same grain with little deformation, we expect SNR to increase and indexing performance to improve. Here is an example from 7 patterns averaged from grain 1.

Figure 4: Frame Averaged Example.

Figure 4: Frame Averaged Example.

That is easy though. Let’s take a more difficult case, where with our hexagonal measurement grid averaging kernel, we have 4 patterns from one grain and 3 patterns from another. The colors correspond to the orientation maps of the triplet junction shown below.

Figure 5: Multiple Grains

Figure 5: Multiple Grains.

In this case, the orientation solution from this mixed averaged pattern was only 0.1° from the pattern from the 1st grain, with this solution receiving 35 votes out of a possible 84. What this indicated to me was that 7 of the 9 detected bands matched this 1st grain pattern. It’s really impressive what the triplet indexing approach accomplishes with this type of pattern overlap.

Finally, let’s try an averaging kernel where we have 3 patterns from one grain, 2 patterns from a second grain, and 2 patterns from a third grain, as shown here:

Figure 6: Multiple Grains.

Figure 6: Multiple Grains.

Here the orientation solution misoriented 0.4° from the pattern from the 1st grain, with this solution receiving 20 votes out of the possible 84. This indicates that 6 of the 9 detected bands matched this 1st grain pattern. These example do show that we can deconvolute the correct orientation measurement from the strongest pattern within a mixed pattern, which can help improve the effective EBSD spatial resolution when necessary.

Now, to compare NPAR to traditional cleanup, I then set my camera gain to the maximum value, and collected an OIM map from this triple junction, with an acquisition speed near 500 points per second at 1nA beam current. I then applied NPAR to this data. Finally, I reduced the gain and collected a dataset at 25 points per second at the same beam current as a reference. The orientation maps are shown below with corresponding Indexing Success Rates (ISR) as defined by the CI > 0.1 fraction after CI Standardization. This is a good example of how clean up can be used to improve the initial noisy data, as NPAR provides a new alternative with better results.

Figure 7: Orientation Maps.

Figure 7: Orientation Maps.

We can clearly see that the NPAR data correlated well with the slower reference data with the NPAR data collected ≈ 17 times faster than the traditional settings.

Now let’s see how clean up (or noise reduction, although I personally don’t like this term as often we are not dealing with noise-related artifacts) compared to the NPAR results. To start, I used the grain dilation routine in OIM Analysis, which first determines a grain (I used the default 5° tolerance angle and 2 pixel minimum defaults), and then expands that grain out by one step per pass. The results from a single pass, a double pass, and dilation to completion (when all the grains are fully grown together) are shown below. If we compare this approach with the NPAR and As-Collected references, we see that dilation cleanup has brought the 3 primary grains into contact, but a lot of “phantom” artifact grains with low confidence index are still present (and therefore colored black).

Figure 8: Grain Dilation.

Figure 8: Grain Dilation.

The other clean up routine I will commonly use is the Neighbor Orientation Cleanup routine, which in principle is similar to the NPAR neighbor relation approach. Here, instead of averaging patterns spatially, from each measurement point we compare the orientation measurements of all the neighboring points, and if 4 of the 6 neighbors have the same orientation, we change the orientation of the measurement point to this new neighbor orientation. Results from this approach are shown here.

Figure 9: Neighbor Orientation Correlation.

Figure 9: Neighbor Orientation Correlation.

Now of course the starting data is very noise, and was intentionally collected at higher speeds with lower beam currents to highlight the application of NPAR. With initial data like this, traditional clean up routines will have limitations in representing the actual microstructure, and this is why we urge caution when using these procedures. However, clean up can be used more effectively with better starting data. To demonstrate this, a single pass dilation and single pass of neighbor orientation correlation was performed on the NPAR processed data. These results are shown below, along with the reference orientation map. In this case, the low confidence points near the grain boundary have been filled with the correct orientation, and more of the grain boundary interface has been filled in, which would allow better grain misorientation measurements.

Figure 10: NPAR Cleanup.

Figure 10: NPAR Cleanup.

When I evaluate these images, I think the NPAR approach gives me the best representation relative to the reference data, and I know that the orientation is measured from diffraction patterns collected at or adjacent to each measurement point. I think this highlights an important concept when evaluating EBSD indexing, namely that one should understand how pattern indexing works in order to understand when it fails. Most importantly, I think (and this was also emphasized at the EBSD 2016 meeting) that it is good practice to always report what approach was used in measuring and presenting EBSD data to better interpret and understand the measurements relative to the real microstructure.

From Shanghai to Melbourne and Beyond – Perspectives From a New World Traveler

Dr. Sophie Yan, Applications Engineer China


Click here to read Sophie’s blog in Chinese.

When I arrived in Melbourne from Shanghai, where the temperature was the coldest it had been in 30 years, I admired the beautiful flowers and greenery on my way from the airport and I just wondered, “is this the so-called life as an international traveler?”

On my visit to Melbourne for the ACMM conference, I was tasked to support in-system installations before the event. Even though I came prepared, once I got on-site, there were so many situations and unforeseen circumstances that I felt quite overwhelmed and for the whole of that afternoon, I seemed to be struggling and scrambling. Fortunately, with the help of the local partners, issues were resolved and the situation improved!

Despite an unfamiliar environment and unfamiliar experiences, it turned quickly into a positive experience and there were pleasant surprises because of the heartening support and generous smiles from the local team. Attending the banquets and parties in the evening was something I had never experienced before. I met a nice lady from the organizing committee and I told her that such experiences were very strange for me and I had only seen them on television. She was very surprised by my comments.


When I attended a conference in the US last year, as a new member of the company, many colleagues came to introduce themselves to me. Because of my shyness and because I didn’t know them, the only thing I could do was to smile back at them. At meal times, I was completely lost on what to order. Suddenly a knight in shining armor (from Europe) came to my rescue. He patiently went through the menu with me and helped me place my order.

My impression of America was so different from what I had seen on the big screen. There was the tranquility of a small hill town with trees lining both sides of the road. To my surprised, I saw slim   Americans strolling on the street and my colleagues smiled at me and told me that not all Americans are obese! Seeing America for myself has given me a totally new impression of the country. In life, the human race should have tolerance and hope, a reward for the hard work we put in, and be able to restore its pure nature and life.

Self reliance is typically what lies within the Chinese and we never show our confidence in public. We tried hard to prove ourselves, but there is a price to pay. It is this feeling that has overwhelmed me and has guided my facial expressions. Many a time, my colleagues remind me to “Smile” and I am working hard to give a more positive impression.

In China, we have a focused belief in working hard and achieving excellence in studies, setting targets and staying on track, getting a job and leading a normal life. Recalling what I have been through, I was lost and confused like many of my peers. Ten years ago, I had the opportunity to go to Paris as an exchange student and this changed my life. I met friends as well as retired lecturers, who spent time showing me around in Paris, going to the Arc de Triomphe, eating their favorite foods, such as meat rolls. My fond memories were captured in the many photos we took. I am so lucky to have met these wonderful and kind people in a distant and unfamiliar place. Despite the difference in skin color, goodwill gestures and a shared love of the place let travelers like myself feel more comfortable staying in a foreign country.


René, my colleague from Europe, has boasted about the countries he has visited and the people he has met. As an experienced Applications Engineer, he is always able to show customers what they need to know. The feedback always from customers is that “he knows everything”. I am so impressed by his knowledge and confidence.  René says that he has gained this knowledge and experience from many years of working with the system. He seems to have enjoyed such a lifestyle.

During the gala dinner at the Australia Conference, I saw many ‘PhDs’ and engineering and research professionals enjoying their evening events and dancing on the dance floor. Such actions surprised me at first but later, I enjoyed the events too.

More and more Chinese people are traveling regularly to explore and expand our knowledge, and have become influential in the market. This internationalization trend is inevitable, and we see many shopping malls and public areas covered with decorations to greet the upcoming Lunar New Year festival. We travel and think about what we have seen. What else have we brought back with us in addition to visits to tourist attractions? Life continues and we will experience many things – good or bad, we will calmly take one thing at a time.

Last but not least, with the Lunar Year of the Monkey, I would like to take this opportunity to hope that everyone celebrates this Spring Festival with happiness and to wish my friends and colleagues happy travels as they enjoy the growing International Lifestyle.

Why you should never leave home without your plasma cleaner – at least if you are going to M&M

Dr. Jens Rafaelsen – Applications Engineer, EDAX

One of the things I learned during the 2015 Microscopy and Microanalysis meeting was just how efficient plasma cleaners really are and this is a short story about how it saved the day for us. We had shipped our older Hitachi S3400N microscope from Mahwah to Portland for the show and had tested everything before it went on the truck. The meeting opened Monday August 3 at noon so Sunday was set aside for getting everything set up and calibrated. While our service group had done most of the work, I had a bit of data I wanted to collect for the days to follow. So I sat down at the microscope, turned on the beam, and stared at the current meter showing next to nothing. I checked the usual microscope settings and fidgeted with the apertures but still couldn’t get a decent current down through the column. Since we were a little short on time and the Hitachi booth was close by, we went over and looked sufficiently desperate for the Hitachi service guys to take pity on us and come to help.

I noticed the Hitachi guys going through the same steps I had done and end up with the same problem, so at least it wasn’t just down to my short comings regarding microscope service. As the last step they pulled out the aperture strip and the black gunk covering all three apertures gave us a pretty good indication of the problem: the beam was being severely attenuated simply because the apertures were clogged up with carbon contamination. Of course the Hitachi guys’ immediate question was “Did you bring a new aperture strip?” and my answer was a meek “No…”. But then I remembered that I did bring a plasma cleaner. I didn’t really believe that it would be able to do much with the level of contamination that we had on the apertures but it was still worth a shot. So I put the aperture strip in the cleaner chamber and ran it at a pressure of 2*10-2 mbar with a power of 50 W.

I have to say that I was extremely surprised when the aperture strip looked as good as new after only 10 minutes of plasma exposure. Both the EDAX and Hitachi service guys were equally impressed and after mounting the strip back in the column we were up and running again. So 10 minutes of plasma cleaning saved us from having to either try to have an aperture strip shipped in overnight or run the microscope with no aperture and ensuing risk of sample damage and reduced imaging capability. Unfortunately I didn’t take any pictures before and after cleaning, as I honestly was not expecting it to work, but the picture below shows us busy running demos on the Hitachi during the show.

The EDAX booth at M&M 2015

The EDAX booth at M&M 2015

At this point you might wonder why I had brought a plasma cleaner in the first place. Well, one of the things that we were highlighting with the new Octane Elite detector we launched at the show was the silicon nitride window and its durability. I had run a test on my office desk with a live detector mounted directly on an asher chamber (shown in Figure 1) that I borrowed from Vince Carlino of ibss Group, Inc. When the asher chamber is running, it looks like something out of a science fiction movie so we wanted to do something similar at the M&M meeting as a visual prop.

Figure 1: Silicon nitride window detector mounted on ibss asher chamber.

Figure 1: Silicon nitride window detector mounted on ibss asher chamber.

Since a full detector takes up space we simply put a single detector module directly in the asher chamber and started the cleaning process on Monday when the exhibition began. I took pictures of the controller for the system and the module at the start and end of each day as can be seen in the picture sequence below.

Figure 2: The controller and module at the start and end of each day.

Figure 2: The controller and module at the start and end of each day.

After almost 76 hours of continuous plasma exposure, the silicon nitride window shows no signs of degradation and knowing what plasma cleaning did to the aperture strip, I am pretty certain that was absolutely no carbon contamination on the window. Of course this is more of a show-and-tell kind of experiment and the testing I did before this involved detailed monitoring of the module performance and temperature to detect any pin-holes that would not be visible by eye. That report will be available shortly.

The next step will be to try the same with a polymer window but I am still thinking about exactly how to design the experiment. Of course I could just clean it for an extended period of time and see if the window is still intact but it would be nice to have a metric of how fast the damage occurs (or not). One idea would be to use a bare window and correlate the ratio of the carbon and aluminum signal of the window to the silicon peak from the support grid in order to monitor any changes in thickness, but if anyone has other suggestions, I would be happy to hear them.

Even though the tabletop plasma cleaner has been around for a number of years, its complete usefulness is sometimes is overlooked because it is a small piece of  auxillary equipment. Sometimes, however,  the smallest of equipment can provide the largest benefit!

XRF – Mile High Style!

Sia Afshari, Program Manager XRF, EDAX.

As I was heading to the Denver X-ray Conference(DXC) last week and looking at the proceeding topics, I could not help thinking about the Spectroscopy Magazine article (June 2015) on X-ray Fluorescence topics and the future of the technique.  I tried to set my expectations accordingly!  The experts quoted came mostly from academia, however the article is worth a glance, particularly for those whose interest lies with future developments and trends in this field.

DXC is special to x-ray techies since it is entirely dedicated to x-ray analysis and with its many workshops, posters, and highly technical papers, it is a great place to learn, expand one’s x-ray knowledge, and meet some of the leading scientists in the field.  This being the 64th year anniversary, the DXC was held jointly with the TXRF group for the 1st time ever in the US.

This year, EDAX had a joint booth with SPECTRO; this combination offers a wide range of XRF analysis tools from laboratory µXRF to in-line process control and everything in between!  Even though DXC is not considered as a commercial venue, it is very important for any x-ray company to have a presence since “disruptive innovations” in this field are often presented there.  One cannot beat the B2B aspect of the DXC, where one can view the latest advancements and discuss technical subjects in detail with each of the vendors.



Even though the repetition of some papers (with better graphics though) is a concern to the organizers, there were several interesting papers this year.  I have to admit that our own Dr. Bruce Scruggs’ paper was well received and was one of the most interesting presentations.  Bruce proposed that by analyzing different parts of a spectrum under different set up conditions (tube energy, filter, etc.) one can achieve a higher degree of accuracy and precision.

Presentation by Dr. Bruce Scruggs.

Presentation by Dr. Bruce Scruggs.

On the way home thinking of the Spectroscopy article again, the papers that I attended, and my discussions with various vendors, I am excited about the future of the XRF and in particular about our roadmap!  The new components on their way to the market will enhance our existing position and help us in the expanding sector of process and in-situ analysis.

The only question in my mind is, do we want to spend a few hundred hours in preparation to conduct a workshop next year that covers the entire subject of counting statists and errors in XRF measurements?