EDS

Home Sweet Home

Dr. René de Kloe, Applications Specialist, EDAX

This last year has been different in many ways, both personally and at work. For me, it meant being in the office or working from home instead of being out and about and meeting customers and performing operator schools in person. This does not exactly mean that things are quieter, though! At home, I got confronted with lots of little maintenance things in and around my house that otherwise somehow manage to escape my attention. At work, lots of things vying for my attention have managed to land on my desk.

The upside is that with almost everything now being done through remote connections. I get to sit more at the microscope in the lab to work on customer samples, collect example datasets, perform system tests, and also practice collecting data on difficult samples so that I can support our customers better. To do that, I have the privilege of being able to choose which EBSD detector I want to mount, from the fast Velocity to the familiar Hikari to the sensitive Clarity Direct Electron System. But how do I decide what samples to use for such practice sessions?

A common garden snail (Cornu aspersum) and an empty shell used for the analysis.

Figure 1. A common garden snail (Cornu aspersum) and an empty shell used for the analysis.

In the past, I wrote about my habit of occasionally going “dumpster diving” to collect interesting materials (well, to be honest, I try to catch the things just before they land in the dumpster). That way, I have built up a nice collection of interesting alloys, rocks, and ceramics to keep me busy. But this time, I wanted to do something different, and an opportunity presented itself when I was working on a fun DIY project, a saddle stool for my daughter. On one of the days that I was shaping wood in my garden for the saddle-support, I noticed some garden snails moving about leisurely. These were the lucky chaps (Figure 1). While we occasionally feel the need to redecorate our walls to get a change of view, the snail’s home remains the same and follows him wherever he goes; sounds great! No need to do any decoration or maintenance, and always happy at home!

But all kidding aside, I have long been interested in the structure of these snail shells and have wanted to do microstructural analysis on one. So, when I found an empty shell nearby belonging to one of its cousins that had perished, I decided to try to do some Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) imaging and collect Electron Backscatter Diffraction (EBSD) data to figure out how the shell was constructed. The fragility of the shell and especially the presence of organic material in between the carbonate crystals that make up the shell makes them challenging for EBSD, so I decided to mount my Clarity Detector and give it a very gentle try.

The outer layer that contains the shell’s color was already flaking off, so I had nice access to the shell’s outer surface without the need to clean or polish it. And with the Gatan PECS II Ion Mill that I have available, I prepared a cross-section of a small fragment. I was expecting a carbonate structure like you see in seashells and probably all made of calcite, which is the stable crystal form of CaCO3 at ambient temperatures. What I found was quite a bit more exotic and beautiful.

In the cross-section, the shell was made up of multiple layers (Figure 2). First, on the inside, a strong foundation made of diagonally placed crossed bars, then two layers of well-organized small grains, was topped by an organic layer containing the color markings.

A PECS II milled cross-section view of the shell with different layers. The dark skin on the top is the colored outer layer.

Figure 2. A PECS II milled cross-section view of the shell with different layers. The dark skin on the top is the colored outer layer.

At the edge of the PECS II prepared cross-section, a part of the outer shell surface remained standing, providing a plan view of the structure just below the surface looking from the inside-out. In the image (Figure 3), a network of separated flat areas can be recognized with a feather-like structure on the top, which is the colored outer surface of the shell. An EDS map collected at the edge suggests that the smooth areas are made up of Ca-rich grains, which you would expect from a carbonate structure. Still, the deeper “trenches” contain an organic material with a higher C and O content, explaining why the shell is so beam-sensitive.

A plan view SEM image of the structure directly below the colored surface together with EDS maps showing the C, O, and Ca distribution.

Figure 3. A plan view SEM image of the structure directly below the colored surface together with EDS maps showing the C (purple), O (green), and Ca (blue) distribution.

The EBSD data was collected from the outer surface, where I could peel off the colored organic layer. This left a clean but rough surface that allowed successful EBSD mapping without further polishing.

My first surprise here was the phase. All the patterns that I saw were not of calcite but aragonite (Figure 4). This form of calcium carbonate is stable at higher temperatures and forms nacre and pearls in shells in marine and freshwater environments. I was not expecting to see that in a land animal.

Figure 4. An aragonite EBSD pattern and orientation determination.

Figure 4. An aragonite EBSD pattern and orientation determination.

The second surprise was that the smooth areas that you can see in Figure 3 are not large single crystals but consist of a very fine-grained structure with an average grain size of only 700 nm (Figure 5). The organic bands are clearly visible by the absence of diffraction patterns – the irregular outline is caused by projection due to the surface topography.

Image Quality (IQ) and aragonite IPF maps of the outer surface of the shell. The uniform red color and (001) pole figure indicate a very strong preferred crystal orientation.

Figure 5. Image Quality (IQ) and aragonite IPF maps of the outer surface of the shell. The uniform red color and (001) pole figure indicate a very strong preferred crystal orientation.

After this surface map, I wanted to try something more challenging and see if I could get some information on the crossbar area underneath. At the edge of the fractured bit of the shell, I could see the transition between the two layers with the crossbars on the left, which were then covered by the fine-grained outer surface (Figure 6).

An IQ map of the fracture surface. The lower left area shows the crossbar structure, then a thin strip with the fine-grained structure, and at the top right some organic material remains.

Figure 6. An IQ map of the fracture surface. The lower left area shows the crossbar structure, then a thin strip with the fine-grained structure, and at the top right some organic material remains.

Because the fractured sample surface is very rough, EBSD patterns could not be collected everywhere. Nevertheless, a good indication of the microstructure could be obtained. The IPF map (Figure 7) shows the same color as the previous map, with all grains sharing the same crystal direction pointing out of the shell.

An IPF map showing the crystal direction perpendicular to the shell surface. All grains share the same color indicating that the [001] axes are aligned.

Figure 7. An IPF map showing the crystal direction perpendicular to the shell surface. All grains share the same color indicating that the [001] axes are aligned.

But looking at the in-plane directions showed a very different picture (Figure 8). Although the sample normal direction is close to [001] for all grains, the crystals in the crossbar structure are rotated by 90° and share a well-aligned [100] axis with the two main directions rotated by ~30° around it.

An IPF map along Axis 2 showing the in-plane crystal directions with corresponding color-coded pole figures.

Figure 8. An IPF map along Axis 2 showing the in-plane crystal directions with corresponding color-coded pole figures.

Detail of the IPF map of the crossbar area with superimposed crystal orientations.

Figure 9. Detail of the IPF map of the crossbar area with superimposed crystal orientations.

I often have a pretty good idea of what to expect regarding phases and microstructure in manufactured materials. Still, I am often surprised by the intricate structures in the smallest things in natural materials like these snail shells.

These maps indicate a fantastic level of biogenic crystallographic control in the snail shell formation. First, a well-organized interlocked fibrous layer with a fixed orientation relationship is then covered by a smooth layer of aragonite islands, bound together by an organic structure, and then topped by a flexible, colored protective layer. With such a house, no redecoration is necessary. Home sweet home indeed!

Minimum Detection Limit and Silicon Nitride Window

Dr. Shangshang Mu, Applications Engineer, EDAX

A couple of weeks ago, a question regarding the minimum detection limits (MDL) of our Energy Dispersive Spectroscopy (EDS) quantitative analysis was forwarded to me from a potential customer. This is a frequently asked question I get from customers during EDS training. We understand researchers are looking for a simple answer; however, they don’t get a straightforward answer from us most of the time. This is not because we don’t want to tell the customer the configurations of our systems, but detection limits depend on various factors, including detector window, geometry, detector resolution, collection time, count rate, and sample composition. The detection limit for a given amount of an element in different sample matrixes is not the same. For example, calcium in indium has a much higher detection limit than it has in carbon because calcium energy lines are heavily absorbed by indium, but not by carbon. The limit also changes if you have a bit more of a given compound in the sample. The limits are lower if the data collection time is doubled. So, it is impossible to provide a general MDL for an EDS system or even a given element, but we can calculate the MDL for a given spectrum.

This function is available in APEX™ Software for EDS version 2.0 or later. For each element identified in the spectrum, the MDL is given in the quantification table and flagged if it is below the detection limit (Figure 1). To determine the MDL for a given spectrum, one must look at the statistical significance of the signal above the background. We generally use the single-channel definition for peak and background counts.

Figure 1. Quantification table with MDL.

Figure 1. Quantification table with MDL.

Figure 2. Illustration of background and peak counts.

Figure 2. Illustration of background and peak counts.

For a given element to be above the significance level, it requires that the total number of counts on the peak NP be above background counts NB by a predetermined confidence, see Figure 2. For significance, we use 1.7 standard deviations (SD) in a one-tail test since we are only concerned about having counts above the threshold (Figure 3). A SD of 1.7 corresponds to about 95% confidence for a single-tail.

Figure 3. Single-tail normal distribution. NB is the background mean level.

Figure 3. Single-tail normal distribution. NB is the background mean level.

The significance level can be calculated as:

NS=NB+1.7σB= NB+1.7√(NB)

This means that the requirement for an element to be considered significant is:

NP≥ NB+1.7√(NB)

For the MDL calculation, we are considering the net counts on the peak (NP-NB). Analog to the significance level, it is required that the counts are above the background plus a significance level, but we are now considering net counts instead of gross counts.

NDL=NB+∆(NP-NB)

To calculate the error, we consider the error of the peak and the background. If an element is close to the detection limit, the number of counts are comparable to the background counts, and we can approximate the total error:

∆(NP-NB)=√(NP+NB)≈√(2NB)

Using a 2s/95% confidence level, we can write the count detection limit as:

NDL=NB+2√(2NB)~2.8√(NB)

With the count-based detection limit and assuming the counts are linear with concentration, the concentration MDL can be calculated from the concentration C of a given element in a spectrum:

MDL=2.8√(NB)*C/NP

As I mentioned earlier, the detector window is one of the most important factors determining the MDL. With the introduction of Silicon Drift Detectors (SDD) and the development of fast and low-noise pulse processors, EDS analysis has seen remarkable increases in throughput and reliability in the last decade. But one often overlooked aspect of the detection technology is the detector window. A variety of window technologies are available, including beryllium, polymer films, and the most recent addition by EDAX, silicon nitride. Due to the polymer window’s composition and thickness, a significant part of the low-energy X-rays is absorbed before reaching the X-ray detector. This absorption effect is vastly reduced in the range below 2 keV for the silicon nitride windows, as shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4: Transmission curves for silicon nitride and polymer windows measured using synchrotron radiation.

Figure 4. Transmission curves for silicon nitride and polymer windows measured using synchrotron radiation.

The MDL for spectra acquired from the same samples with different window configurations can be calculated by employing the derived equation above. This study was led by Dr. Jens Rafaelsen at EDAX using five different standards. To eliminate the detector resolution and response as a variable in the experiment, the window was removed from a standard detector, and exchangeable caps with silicon nitride and polymer windows were mounted in front of the electron trap. Figures 5 and 6 show the relative improvement in MDL for the window-less and silicon nitride window configurations compared to the polymer window. Figure 6 documents the silicon nitride’s superiority over the polymer window in the low energy range with improvements of over 10% for the MDL of oxygen. While Figure 5 shows that further improvements can be gained in the window-less configurations, the silicon nitride window still allows for the use of variable pressure mode and spectrum collection from samples exhibiting cathodoluminescence (CL).

On a side note, our friends at Gatan recently captured fantastic EDS and CL data simultaneously from a meteorite thin-section using an EDAX Octane Elite EDS Detector and a Gatan Monarc CL Detector mounted on the same SEM. Check out the blog post written by Dr. Jonathan Lee to see how combined EDS and CL analysis can provide a glimpse into the history of our solar system’s evolution.

Figure 5. Relative gain in MDL for window-less configuration compared to polymer window.

Figure 5. Relative gain in MDL for window-less configuration compared to polymer window.


Figure 6. Relative gain in MDL for silicon nitride configuration compared to polymer window.

Figure 6. Relative gain in MDL for silicon nitride configuration compared to polymer window.

Microanalysis That’s Out of This World!

Dr. Jonathan Lee, Application Scientist, Gatan

Working as a cathodoluminescence (CL) application scientist at Gatan, I observe a great variety of interesting specimens from semiconductor devices, plastics, and geological samples to novel nanoscale optical devices demonstrating the capabilities of the Monarc® Pro CL detector. In case you don’t know, CL is the visible, ultraviolet, and infrared light emitted by many specimens in the scanning electron microscope (SEM). Recently, I was contacted regarding a meteorite sample and asked what analysis I could demonstrate using CL. As a physicist and amateur astronomer, I was naturally very excited at the rare opportunity to analyze something that literally came from out of this world! You might say I was… over the moon 🌙!

The sample is a thin-section from a meteorite collected from Antarctica – Miller Range 090010, you can read more about the classification here: Meteoritical Bulletin: Entry for Miller Range 090010 (usra.edu). Likely to have been a constituent of the asteroid belt, our specimen had a trajectory that eventually led it to fall to Earth. The study of these meteorites allows us to understand more about the age and history of our solar system. Given the origins and unusual conditions experienced by meteorites, the microstructure can be incredibly complex, but often, chondritic meteorites like this one contain calcium aluminum inclusions (CAIs) and corundum grains which are among the first solids to condense from the solar nebula! Now, before I get wrapped up with the Cosmic Calendar, let’s take a look at our specimen!

Image overlay from a CAI region of meteorite specimen (gray) secondary electron and (green) unfiltered CL.

Figure 1. Image overlay from a CAI region of meteorite specimen (gray) secondary electron and (green) unfiltered CL.

CL revealed so much new information, and this was an exciting first result! For geological specimens, unfiltered CL images can be very useful to reveal mineral texture, but the real nitty-gritty information is found in the spectrum. So many of the grains showed such strong luminescence that I was eager to learn more.

Our friends at EDAX recently installed an Octane Elite Energy Dispersive Spectroscopy (EDS) Detector on the same SEM as the Monarc. EDS and CL are fantastically complementary techniques for sample analysis. EDS is great for elemental quantification but falls short when trying to identify trace elements, crystallographic phases, or grain boundaries – where CL shines! Equipped with these powerful tools, I collected my first multi-hyperspectral data, capturing CL and EDS signals simultaneously. Take a look at some of the results:

(left) True color representation of the CL spectrum image (color) overlaid with SE image (gray), and (right) extracted CL spectra from points 1 (aqua fill), 2 (red), and 3 (green).

Figure 2. (left) True color representation of the CL spectrum image (color) overlaid with SE image (gray), and (right) extracted CL spectra from points 1 (aqua fill), 2 (red), and 3 (green).

(left) Elemental quantity maps extracted from the EDS spectrum image corresponding to aluminum (blue), calcium (green), and magnesium (red); and (right) extracted EDS spectra from points 1 (aqua fill), 2 (red), and 3 (green). Points 1, 2, and 3 are the same locations as in Figure 2.

Figure 3. (left) Elemental quantity maps extracted from the EDS spectrum image corresponding to aluminum (blue), calcium (green), and magnesium (red); and (right) extracted EDS spectra from points 1 (aqua fill), 2 (red), and 3 (green). Points 1, 2, and 3 are the same locations as in Figure 2.

Both techniques were very revealing. In addition to Mg, Ca, and Al, the EDS spectrum image (hyperspectral image) detected other elements, some in high abundance like O and Si, and others which were less abundant, including Fe, C, Ti, and Na. We discovered geological materials like hibonite, corundum, and apatite but could not discern which mineral complexes they were involved in. At first glance, the CL and EDS maps looked very similar, but the more I looked, the more I realized there were significant differences, and so I decided to dig a little deeper with the CL spectrum image. The CL spectrum shown in Figure 2 indicates the presence of several trace elements. By looking at the difference of intensities at the smaller sharp peaks in contrast with the surrounding intensities, I was able to differentiate two maps from the CL data, which likely correspond to the presence of trace elements, one with an emission peak at 460 nm (Fe in corundum) and the other at 605 nm (Sm in apatite).

Extraction of CL trace elements (Fe in corundum) found at 460 nm (red) and (Sm in apatite) 605 nm (green).

Figure 4. Extraction of CL trace elements (Fe in corundum) found at 460 nm (red) and (Sm in apatite) 605 nm (green).

(left) Bandpass CL image displaying 580 ± 20 nm and (right) colorized EDS map for Al (blue), Ca (green), and Mg (red).

Figure 5. (left) Bandpass CL image displaying 580 ± 20 nm and (right) colorized EDS map for Al (blue), Ca (green), and Mg (red).

EDS and CL composite image including EDS elemental maps for aluminum(blue) and magnesium (yellow); and trace elements iron in corundum (green) and samarium in apatite (red) as revealed by CL.

Figure 6. EDS and CL composite image including EDS elemental maps for aluminum(blue) and magnesium (yellow); and trace elements iron in corundum (green) and samarium in apatite (red) as revealed by CL.

The data gathered from this sample may give a glimpse into the history of our solar system’s evolution. It also demonstrates the need for complementary techniques when analyzing complex samples. I want to thank NASA for generously providing the sample used in this study, Gatan and EDAX for providing me the opportunity to work with it, and the nature of the universe for generating this message in a bottle and letting it find its way to our lab!

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

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.

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).

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.

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.

Want a Free Set of Microanalysis Standards?

Dr. Shangshang Mu, Applications Engineer, EDAX

Modern EDS systems are capable of quantitative analysis with or without standards. Unlike standard-less analysis, the k-ratio is either calculated in the software or based on internal standards. For analysis with standards, it is measured from a reference sample with known composition under the same conditions as the unknown sample. As an applications engineer, sometimes users ask me where to order these standards. Usually, I point them to the vendors that manufacture and distribute reference standards where you can order either off-the-shelf or customized standard blocks. In addition to these commercial mounts, I always tell them that they can request a set of mineral, glass, and rare earth element phosphate standards from the National Museum of Natural History free of charge! These are very useful standards that I’ve seen widely used in not only the geoscience world but also in various manufacturing industries. These free standards are also great for those graduate students with limited budgets and ideal for practicing sample preparation (yes, I was one of them).

This set of standards is officially called the Smithsonian Microbeam Standards and includes 29 minerals, 12 types of glass, and 16 REE phosphates. You can find out more information about these standards and submit a request form by clicking on the link below:
https://naturalhistory.si.edu/research/mineral-sciences/collections-overview/reference-materials/smithsonian-microbeam-standards

I mentioned sample preparation earlier. Yes, you read that right. These standards come in pill capsules containing from many tiny grains to a few larger ones and you need to mount them on your own (Figure 1).

Grains in a pill capsule.

Figure 1. Grains in a pill capsule.

Since you can get the information such as the composition, locality, and references for each standard from the website, what I want to discuss in this blog post is how to prepare them properly for X-ray analysis. The first tricky thing is to get them out of the capsules. The grains in Figure 1 are almost the largest in this set and you won’t get too many of this size. Some of the grains are even too tiny to be seen at first glance. For the majority that are really tiny, you need to tap the capsule a couple of times to release the grains that get stick to the capsule wall, then you can open the capsule very carefully and let the grains slide out with a little tapping.

For mounting, the easiest way is to mount the standards in epoxy using a mounting cup and let it cure. I did this in a fancy way to make it look like a commercial mount (Figure 2). I ordered a 30 mm diameter circular retainer with 37 holes used by commercial mount manufacturers (Figure 3) and filled the holes with standards on my own. I must admit that the retainer is not cheap, but you can machine the mount by yourself or have a machine shop do it for you. In addition to looking pretty, the retainer ensures a good layout so you can quickly locate the standards you need during microanalysis, and you can mount the same type of standards on one block and get rid of the hassle of frequently venting and pumping the SEM chamber to switch standard blocks.

Examples of commercial mounts.

Figure 2. Examples of commercial mounts.

 

30 mm diameter circular retainer with 37 holes.

Figure 3. 30 mm diameter circular retainer with 37 holes.

To prevent the tiny grains from moving and floating up when pouring the epoxy mix, I placed the retainer upside down and pressed it onto a piece of sticky tape (Figure 4a) and positioned the grains on the sticky surface of the tape within the holes. When tapping the capsule to let the grains slide out and fall into the hole, the other holes were covered to prevent contamination (Figure 4b). These holes are small in diameter and pouring the epoxy mix directly will trap air bubbles in the hole to separate the grains from the epoxy mix. To overcome this problem, I filled up the hole by letting the epoxy mix drip down very slowly along the inner surface of the hole.

Positioning grains within the holes of the retainer.

Figure 4. Positioning grains within the holes of the retainer.

For general grinding, I start with wet 240 grit SiC sandpaper with subsequent use of 320, 400, 600, 800, and 1,200 grit wet SiC sandpapers. But coarser grits can grind off tiny grains in this case, so I would recommend starting with a relatively fine grit based on the sizes of the grains you receive and always use a light microscope or magnifier to check the grinding. For polishing abrasive, I used 1 micron and 0.3 micron alumina suspensions on a polishing cloth. For the grains used as standards or quantification in general, the surface needs to be perfectly flat. However, the napped polishing cloth tends to abrade epoxy and the grains at different rates, creating surface relief and edge rounding, especially on tiny grains. To mitigate this effect, the polishing should be checked under a light microscope constantly and stopped as soon as the scratches are removed. A vibratory final polishing with colloidal silica is optional. Followed by ultrasonic cleaning and carbon coating, the standard mount is ready to use.

Note that commercial mount manufacturers may prepare standards individually (especially for metal standards) and insert them into the holes from the back of the retainer and fasten them with retaining rings (Figure 5a). A benefit of this approach is that the standards on the mount are changeable, so you can load all the standards you need on one mount before microanalysis. I used to make several individual mounted standards that can fit into the retainer (Figure 5b) but this process is very time consuming and much trickier to keep the small surface flat during grinding and polishing.

a) The back of a commercial metal standard mount. b) A tiny cylindrical mount that can fit into the retainer holes.

Figure 5. a) The back of a commercial metal standard mount. b) A tiny cylindrical mount that can fit into the retainer holes.

This is definitely a good set of standards to keep in your lab. With EDAX EDS software, in addition to quantification with these standards, you can also use them to create a library and explore the Spectrum Matching feature. The next time you want to quickly determine the specific type of a mineral, you can simply collect a quick spectrum and click the “Match” button, and the software will compare the unknowns to the library you just created.

How to Get a Good Answer in a Timely Manner

Shawn Wallace, Applications Engineer, EDAX

One of the joys of my job is troubleshooting issues and ensuring you acquire the best results to advance your research. Sometimes, it requires additional education to help users understand a concept. Other times, it requires an exchange of numerous emails. At the end of the day, our goal is not just to help you, but to ensure you get the right information in a timely manner.

For any sort of EDS related question, we almost always want to look at a spectrum file. Why? There is so much information hidden in the spectrum that we can quickly point out any possible issues. With a single spectrum, we can quickly see if something was charging, tilted, or shadowed (Figure 1). We can even see weird things like beam deceleration caused by a certain imaging mode (Figure 2). With most of these kinds of issues, it is common to run into major quant related problems. Any quant problems should always start with a spectrum.

Figure 1. The teal spectrum shows a strange background versus what a normal spectrum (red) should look like for a material.

Figure 1. The teal spectrum shows a strange background versus what a normal spectrum (red) should look like for a material.

This background information tells us that the sample was most likely shadowed and that rotating the sample to face towards the detector may give better results.

Figure 2. Many microscopes can decelerate the beam to help with imaging. This deceleration is great for imaging but can cause EDS quant issues. Therefore, we recommend reviewing the spectrum up front to reduce the number of emails to troubleshoot this issue.

Figure 2. Many microscopes can decelerate the beam to help with imaging. This deceleration is great for imaging but can cause EDS quant issues. Therefore, we recommend reviewing the spectrum up front to reduce the number of emails to troubleshoot this issue.

To save the spectrum, right-click in the spectrum window, then click on Save (Figure 3). From there, save the file with a descriptive name, and send it off to the applications group. These spectrum files also include other metadata, such as amp time, working distance, and parameters that give us so many clues to get to the bottom of possible issues.

Figure 3. Saving a spectrum in APEX™ is intuitive. Right-click in the area and a pop-up menu will allow you to save the spectrum wherever you want quickly.

Figure 3. Saving a spectrum in APEX™ is intuitive. Right-click in the area and a pop-up menu will allow you to save the spectrum wherever you want quickly.

For information on EDS backgrounds and the information they hold, I suggest watching Dr. Jens Rafaelsen’s Background Modeling and Non-Ideal Sample Analysis webinar.

The actual image file can also help us confirm most of the above.

Troubleshooting EBSD can be tricky since the issue could be from sample prep, indexing, or other issues. To begin, it’s important to rule out any variances associated with sample preparation. Useful information to share includes a description of the sample, as well as the step-by-step instructions used to prepare the sample. This includes things like the length of time, pressure, cloth material, polishing compound material, and even the direction of travel. The more details, the better!

Now, how do I know it is a sample prep problem? If the pattern quality is low at long exposure times (Figure 4) or the sample looks very rough, it is probably related to sample preparation (Figure 4). That being said, there could be non-sample prep related issues too.

Figure 4. This pattern is probably not indexable on its own. Better preparation of the sample surface is necessary to index and map this sample correctly.

Figure 4. This pattern is probably not indexable on its own. Better preparation of the sample surface is necessary to index and map this sample correctly.

For general sample prep guidelines, I would highly suggest Matt Nowell’s Learn How I Prepare Samples for EBSD Analysis webinar.

Indexing problems can be challenging to troubleshoot without a full data set. How do I know my main issues could be related to indexing? If indexing is the source, a map often appears to be very speckled or just black due to no indexing results. For this kind of issue, full data sets are the way to go. By full, I mean patterns and OSC files. These files can be exported out of TEAM™/APEX™. They are often quite large, but there are ways available to move the data quickly.

For the basics of indexing knowledge, I suggest checking out my latest webinar, Understanding and Troubleshooting the EDAX Indexing Routine and the Hough Parameters. During this webinar, we highlight attributes that indicate there is an issue with the data set, then dive into the best practices for troubleshooting them.

As for camera set up, this is a dance between the microscope settings, operator’s requirements, and the camera settings. In general, more electrons (higher current) allow the experiment to go faster and cover more area. With older CCD based cameras, understanding this interaction was key to good results. With the newer Velocity™ cameras based on CMOS technology, the dance is much simpler. If you are having difficulty while trying to optimize an older camera, the Understanding and Optimizing EBSD Camera Settings webinar can help.

So how do you get your questions answered fast? Bury us with information. More information lets us dive deeper into the data to find the root cause in the first email, and avoids a lengthy back and forth exchange of emails. If possible, educate yourself using the resources we have made available, be it webinars or training courses. And always, feel free to reach out to my colleagues and me at edax.applications@ametek.com!

What a Difference a Year Makes

Jonathan McMenamin, Marketing Communications Coordinator, EDAX

EDAX is considered one of the leaders in the world of microscopy and microanalysis. After concentrating on advancements to our Energy Dispersive Spectroscopy (EDS) systems for the Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) over the past few years, EDAX turned its attention to advances in Electron Backscatter Diffraction (EBSD) and EDS for the Transmission Electron Microscope (TEM) in 2019.

After the introduction of the Velocity™ Plus EBSD camera in June 2018, which produces indexing speeds greater that 3,000 indexed points per second, EDAX raised the bar further in 2019. In March, the company announced the arrival of the fastest EBSD camera in the world, the Velocity™ Super, which can go 50% faster at 4,500 indexed points per second. This was truly a great accomplishment!

EBSD orientation map from additively manufactured Inconel 718 collected at 4,500 indexed points per second at 25 nA beam current.

EBSD orientation map from additively manufactured Inconel 718 collected at 4,500 indexed points per second at 25 nA beam current.

Less than three months later, EDAX added a new detector to its TEM product portfolio. The Elite T Ultra is a 160 mm2 detector that offers a unique geometry and powerful quantification routines for comprehensive analysis solutions for all TEM applications. The windowless detector’s geometric design gives it the best possible solid angle to increase the X-ray count rates for optimal results.

EDAX Elite T Ultra EDS System for the TEM

EDAX Elite T Ultra EDS System for the TEM.

Just before the annual Microscopy & Microanalysis conference, EDAX launched the OIM Matrix™ software module for OIM Analysis™. This new tool gives users the ability to perform dynamic diffraction-based EBSD pattern simulations and dictionary indexing. Users can now simulate EBSD patterns based on the physics of dynamical diffraction of electrons. These simulated patterns can then be compared to experimentally collected EBSD patterns. Dictionary indexing helps improve indexing success rates over standard Hough-based indexing approaches. You can watch Dr. Stuart Wright’s <a href=”https://youtu.be/Jri181evpiA&#8221; target=”_blank”>presentation from M&M</a> for more information.

Dictionary indexing flow chart and conventional indexing results compared with dictionary indexing results for a nickel sample with patterns collected in a high-gain/noisy condition.

Dictionary indexing flow chart and conventional indexing results compared with dictionary indexing results for a nickel sample with patterns collected in a high-gain/noisy condition.

EDAX has several exciting product announcements on the way in early 2020. We have teased a two of these releases, APEX™ Software for EBSD and the Clarity™ Direct Electron Detector. APEX™ EBSD will give users the ability to characterize both compositional and structural characteristics of their samples on the APEX™ Platform. It gives them the ability to collect and index EBSD patterns and EBSD maps, as well as allow for simultaneous EDS-EBSD collection. You can learn more about APEX™ EBSD in the September issue of the Insight newsletter and in our “APEX™ EBSD – Making EBSD Data Collection How You Want It” webinar.

EBSD of a Gibeon Meteorite sample covering a 7.5 mm x 6.5 mm area using ComboScan for large area analysis.

EBSD of a Gibeon Meteorite sample covering a 7.5 mm x 6.5 mm area using ComboScan for large area analysis.

The Clarity™ is the world’s first commercial direct electron detector (DeD) for EBSD. It provides patterns of the highest quality and sensitivity with no detector read noise and no distortion for optimal performance. The Clarity™ does not require a phosphor screen or light transfer system. The DeD camera is so sensitive that individual electrons can be detected, giving users unprecedented performance for EBSD pattern collection. It is ideal for analysis of beam sensitive samples and potential strain applications. We recently had a webinar “Direct Electron Detection with Clarity™ – Viewing EBSD Patterns in a New Light” previewing the Clarity™. You can also get a better understanding of the system in the December issue of the Insight newsletter or the .

EBSD pattern from Silicon using the Clarity™ detector.

EBSD pattern from Silicon
using the Clarity™ detector.

All this happened in one year! 2020 looks to be another great year for EDAX with further improvements and product releases to offer the best possible tools for you to solve your materials characterization problems.

Is It Worth The Salt?

Felix Reinauer, Applications Specialist, EDAX

When you are in Sweden at Scandem 2019 it is the perfect time to order SOS as an appetizer or for dinner. It is made of smör, ost and sill (butter, cheese and herring) served together with potatoes. Sometimes the potatoes need a little bit of improvement in taste. It is very easy to take the salt mostly located on all tables and salt them. Doing that I thought about how easy it is to do this today and what am I really pouring on my potatoes?

Salt was very important in the past. In ancient times salt was so important that the government of Egypt and other countries setup salt taxes. Around 4000 years ago in China and during the Bronze age in Europe, people started to preserve food using brine. The Romains had soldiers guarding and securing the transportation of salt. Salt was as expensive as gold. Sal is the Latin word for salt and the soldiers used to get their salare. Today you still get a salary. Later ‘Streets of Salt’ were settled to guarantee safe transportation all over the country. As a result, cities along these roads got wealthy. Even cities, like Munich, were founded to make money with the salt tax. Salt even destroyed empires and caused big crises. Venice fought with Genoa over spices in the middle ages. In the 19th century soldiers were sent out to conquer a big mountain of salt of an Inconceivable value, lying along the Missouri River. We all know the history of India´s independence. Mohandas Gandhi organized a salt protest to demonstrate against the British salt tax. The importance of the word salt is also implemented in our languages, “Worth the salt”, “Salz in der Suppe” or “Mettre son grain de sel”.

The two principle ways of getting salt are from underground belts and from the sea. It can be extracted from underground either by mining or by using solution mining. Sea salt is produced in small pools which were filled up during high tide and water evaporates under sunny weather conditions. Two kinds of salt mining are done. Directly digging the salt out of the mountain, then dissolving it to clean it. Or hot water is directly used to dissolve the salt and then the brine is pumped up.

Buying salt today is no longer that expensive, dangerous or difficult. But now a new problem arises. I´m talking about salt for consumption, which usually means NaCl in nice white crystals. So, are there any advantages to using different kind of salts? If we believe advertisements or gourmets, it is important, where the salt we use came from and how it was produced. Today the most time-consuming issue is the selection of the kind of salt you want in the supermarket!

For my analysis I chose three kinds of salts from three different areas. The first question was, are the differences big enough to detect them using EDS or will the differences be related to minor trace elements which can only be seen in WDS. It was a surprise for me that the differences are that huge. I had a look at several crystals from one sample. Shown as examples are the typical analysis of the different compounds and elements for that provenance.

First looking at the mined salt. I selected a kind of salt from the oldest salt company in Germany established over 400 years ago. One kind from Switzerland manufactured in the middle of the Alpes and one from the Kalahari, to be as far away as possible from the others. The salt from Switzerland is the purest salt only containing NaCl with some minor traces. The German salt contains a bigger amount of potassium and the Kalahari salt a bigger amount of sulfur and oxygen (Figure 2.).

Figure 2.

Secondly, I was interested in the salt coming from the sea. I selected two types of salt from French coasts one from the Atlantic Ocean in Brittany and another one from the Mediterranean Sea. The third one came from the German coast at the Baltic Sea. The first interesting impression is that all the sea salt contains many more elements. The Mediterranean salt contains the smallest amount of trace elements. The salt from the Atlantic Ocean and the Baltic sea contains, besides the main NaCl, phases containing Ca, K, S, Mg and O. A difference in the two is the amount of Ca containing compounds (Figure 3.).

Figure 3.

Finally, I was interested in some uncommon types of salt. In magazines and television, experts often publish recipes with special types supposedly offering a special taste, or advertising offers remarkable new kinds of healthy salt. So, I was looking for three kinds which seem to be unusable. I found two, a red and a black colored, Hawaiian salt. The spectrum of the red salt shows nicely that Fe containing minerals cause the red color. Even titanium can be found and a bigger amount of Al, Si and O. The black salt contains mainly the same elements. Instead of Fe the high amount of C causes the black color. A designer salt is the Pyramid finger salt, which is placed on top of the meat to make it look nicer. Beside the shape, the only specialty is the higher amount of Ca, S and O (Figure 4).

Figure 4.

It was really interesting that salt is not even salt. As the shape of the crystals varies, so they differ in composition. In principle it is NaCl but contain more or less different kinds of compounds or even coal to color it. There are elements found in different amounts related to the type of salt and area it came from. These different salts are located in a few very small areas in and on the crystals.
And finally, I pour salt onto my potatoes and think, ok it is NaCl.

 

Saying What You Mean and Meaning What You Say!

Shawn Wallace, Applications Engineer, EDAX

A recent conversation on a list serv discussed sloppiness in the use of words and how it can cause confusion. This made me consider that in the world of microanalysis, we are not immune. We are probably sloppiest with two particular words. They are resolution and phase.

Let us start with how we use the word phase and how phases are commonly defined in microanalysis. In Energy Dispersive Spectroscopy (EDS), we use phase for everything, for example, phase mapping, phase library. In Electron Backscatter Diffraction (EBSD), the usage is a little more straightforward.

So, what is a phase? Well to me, a geologist, a phase has both a distinct chemistry and a distinct crystal structure. Why does this matter to a geologist? Two different minerals with the same chemistry, but with different structures, can behave in very different ways and this gives me useful information about each of them.
The classic example for geologists is the Al2SIO5 system (figure 1). It has three members, Kyanite, Sillimanite, and Andalusite. They each have the same chemistry but different structures. The structure of each is controlled by the pressure and temperature at which the mineral equilibrated. Simple chemistry tells me nothing. I need the structure to tease out that information.

Figure 1. Phase Diagram of the Al2SiO5 system in geological conditions. Different minerals form at different pressures and temperatures, letting geologists know how deep and/or the temperature at which the parent rock formed.**

EDS users use the term phase much more loosely. A phase is something that is chemically distinct. Our phase maps look at a spectrum pixel by pixel and see how they compare. In the end, the software goes through the entire map and groups each pixel with like pixels. The phase library does chi squared fits to compare the spectrum to the library (figure 2).

Figure 2. Our Spectrum Library Match uses as Chi-squared fit to determine the best possible matches. This phase is based on compositional data, not compositional and structural data.

While the definition of phase is relatively straight forward, the meaning of resolution gets a little murkier. If you asked someone what the EDS resolution is, you may get different answers depending on who you ask. The main way we use the term resolution when talking about EDS is spectral resolution. This defines how tight the peaks in a spectrum are (figure 3).

Figure 3. Comparison of EDS vs. WDS spectral resolution. WDS has much higher resolution (tighter peaks) than EDS, but fewer counts and more set-up are required.

The other main use of resolution, in EDS is the spatial resolution of the EDS signal itself (figure 4). There are many factors which determine this, but the main ones are the accelerating voltage and sample characteristics. This resolution can go from nanometers to microns.

Figure 4. Distribution of the electron energy deposited in an aluminum sample (top row) and a gold sample (bottom row) at 15 kV (left column) and 5 kV (right column). Note the dramatic difference in penetration given by the right hand side scale bar.

The final use of resolution for EDS is mapping resolution. This is by far the easiest to understand. It is just the step size of the beam while you are mapping.

Luckily for us, the easiest way to find out what people mean when they use the terms resolution or phase, is just to ask. Of course, the way to avoid any confusion is to be as precise as possible with your choice of words. I resolve to do my part and communicate as clearly as I can!

** Source: Wikipedia

Picture postcards from…

Dr. Felix Reinauer, Applications Specialist, EDAX

Display of postcards from my travels.

…L. A. – this is the title of a popular song from Joshua Kadison which one may like or dislike but at least three words in this title describe a significant part of my work at EDAX. Truth be told I’ve never been to Los Angeles, but as an application specialist traveling in general is a big part of my job. I´m usually on the move all over Europe meeting customers for trainings or attending exhibitions and workshops. This part of my job gives me the opportunity to meet with lots of people from different places and have fruitful discussions at the same time. If I am lucky, there is sometimes even some time left for sightseeing. The drawback of the frequent traveling is being separated from family and friends during these times.

Nowadays it is easy to stay in touch thanks to social media. You send a quick text message or make phone calls, but these are short-term. And here we get back to the title of this post and Joshua Kadison´s pop song, because quite some time ago I started the tradition of sending picture postcards from the places I travel to. And yes, I am talking about the real ones made from cardboard, documenting the different cities and countries I get to visit. Additionally, these cards are sweet notes highly appreciated by the addressee and are often pinned to a wall in our apartment for a period of time.

Within the last couple of years, I notice that it is getting harder to find postcards, this is especially true in the United States. Sometimes keeping on with my tradition feels like an Iron Man challenge. First, I run around to find nice picture postcards, then I have to look for stamps and the last challenge is finding a mailbox. Finally, all these exercises must be done in a limited span of time because the plane is leaving, the customer is waiting, or the shops are closing. But it is still worth it.

It is not only the picture on the front side, which is interesting, each postcard holds one or more stamps – tiny pieces of artfully designed paper – as well. Postage stamps were first introduced in Great Britain in 1840. The first one showed the profile of Queen Victoria and is called “Penny Black” due to the black background and its value. Thousands of different designs have been created ever since attracting collectors all over the world. Sadly, this tradition might be fading. Nowadays the quick and easy way of printed stamps from a machine with only the value on top seems to be becoming the norm. But the small stamps are often beautiful to look at and are full of interesting information, either about historical events, famous persons or remarkable locations.

A selection of postage stamps from countries I have visited.

For me, as a chemist I was also curious about the components of the stamps. Like a famous painting, investigated by XRF to collect information about the pigments and how the artist used them. For the little pieces of art, the SEM in combination with EDS is predestinated to investigate them in low vacuum mode without damaging them. The stamps I looked at are from my trips to Sweden, Great Britain, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic. In addition, I added one German stamp as a tribute to one of the most important chemists, Justus von Liebig after whom the Justus-Liebig University in Gießen is named, where he was professor (1824 – 1852) and I did my Ph. D. (a few years later).

All the measurements shown below were done under the same conditions using an acceleration voltage of 20 kV, with a pressure of 30 Pa and 40x magnification. With the multifield map option the entire stamp area was covered, using a single field resolution of 64×48 each and 128 frames.

Czech Republic Germany

 

Netherlands Sweden

United Kingdom

The EDS results show that modern paper is a composite material. The basic cellulose fibers are covered with a layer of calcium carbonate to ensure a good absorption of the different pigments used. This can be illustrated with the help of phase mappings. Even after many kilometers of travelling and all the hands treating the postcards all features of the stamps are still intact and can be detected. The element mappings show that the colors are not only based on organic compounds, but the existence of metal ions indicate a use of inorganic pigments. Typical elements detected were Al, S, Fe, Ti, Mn and others. The majority of the analysis work I do for EDAX and with EDAX customers is very specialized and involves materials, which would not be instantly familiar to non-scientists. It was fun to be able to use the same EDS analysis techniques on recognizable, everyday objects and to come up with some interesting results.