geology

Teaching is learning

Dr. René de Kloe, Applications Specialist, EDAX

Figure 1. Participants of my first EBSD training course in Grenoble in 2001.

Everybody is learning all the time. You start as a child at home and later in school and that never ends. In your professional career you will learn on the job and sometimes you will get the opportunity to get a dedicated training on some aspect of your work. I am fortunate that my job at EDAX involves a bit of this type of training for our customers interested in EBSD. Somehow, I have already found myself teaching for a long time without really aiming for it. Already as a teenager when I worked at a small local television station in The Netherlands I used to teach the technical things related to making television programs like handling cameras, lighting, editing – basically everything just as long as it was out of the spotlight. Then during my geology study, I assisted in teaching students a variety of subjects ranging from palaeontology to physics and geological fieldwork in the Spanish Pyrenees. So, unsurprisingly, shortly after joining EDAX in 2001 when I was supposed to simply participate in an introductory EBSD course (fig 1) taught by Dr. Stuart Wright in Grenoble, France, I quickly found myself explaining things to the other participants instead of just listening.

Teaching about EBSD often begins when I do a presentation or demonstration for someone new to the technique. And the capabilities of EBSD are such that just listing the technical specifications of an EBSD system to a new customer does not do it justice. Later when a system has been installed I meet the customers again for the dedicated training courses and workshops that we organise and participate in all over the world.

Figure 2. EBSD IPF map of Al kitchen foil collected without any additional specimen preparation. The colour-coding illustrates the extreme deformation by rolling.

In such presentations, of course we talk about the basics of the method and the characteristics of the EDAX systems, but then it always moves on to how it can help understand the materials and processes that the customer is working with. There, teaching starts working the other way as well. With every customer visit I learn something more about the physical world around us. Sometimes this is about a fundamental understanding of a physical process that I have never even heard of.

At other times it is about ordinary items that we see or use in our daily lives such as aluminium kitchen foil, glass panes with special coatings, or the structure of biological materials like eggs, bone, or shells. Aluminium foil is a beautiful material that is readily available in most labs and I use it occasionally to show EBSD grain and texture analysis when I do not have a suitable polished sample with me (fig 2) and at some point, a customer explained to me in detail how it was produced in a double layer back to back to get one shiny and one matte side. And that explained why it produces EBSD patterns without any additional preparation. Something new learned again.

Figure 3. IPF map of austenitic steel microstructure prepared by additive manufacturing.

A relatively new development is additive manufacturing or 3D printing where a precursor powdered material is melted into place by a laser to create complex components/shapes as a single piece. This method produces fantastically intricate structures (fig 3) that need to be studied to optimise the processing.

With every new application my mind starts turning to identify specific functions in the software that would be especially relevant to its understanding. In some cases, this then turns into a collaborative effort to produce scientific publications on a wide variety of subjects e.g. on zeolite pore structures (1, fig (4)), poly-GeSi films (2, fig (5)), or directional solidification by biomineralization of mollusc shells (3).

Figure 4. Figure taken from ref.1 showing EBSD analysis of zeolite crystals.

Figure 5. Figure taken from ref.2 showing laser crystallised GeSi layer on substrate.

Such collaborations continuously spark my curiosity and it is because of these kinds of discussions that after 17 years I am still fascinated with the EBSD technique and its applications.

This fascination also shows during the EBSD operator schools that I teach. The teaching materials that I use slowly evolve with time as the systems change, but still the courses are not simply repetitions. Each time customers bring their own materials and experiences that we use to show the applications and discuss best practices. I feel that it is true that you only really learn how to do something when you teach it.

This variation in applications often enables me to fully show the extent of the analytical capabilities in the OIM Analysis™ software and that is something that often gets lost in the years after a system has been installed. I have seen many times that when a new system is installed, the users invest a lot of time and effort in getting familiar with the system in order to get the most out of it. However, with time the staff that has been originally trained on the equipment moves on and new people are introduced to electron microscopy and all that comes with it. The original users then train their successor in the use of the system and inevitably something is lost at this point.

When you are highly familiar with performing your own analysis, you tend to focus on the bits of the software and settings that you need to perform your analysis. The bits that you do not use fade away and are not taught to the new user. This is something that I see regularly during the training course that I teach. Of course, there are the new functions that have been implemented in the software that users have not seen before, but people who have been using the system for years and are very familiar with the general operation always find new ways of doing things and discover new functions that could have helped them with past projects during the training courses. During the latest EBSD course in Germany in September a participant from a site where they have had EBSD for many years remarked that he was going to recommend coming to a course to his colleagues who have been using the system for a long time as he had found that the system could do much more than he had imagined.

You learn something new every day.

1) J Am Chem Soc. 2008 Oct 15;130(41):13516-7. doi: 10.1021/ja8048767. Epub 2008 Sep 19.
2) ECS Journal of Solid State Science and Technology, 1 (6) P263-P268 (2012)
3) Adv Mater. 2018 Sep 21:e1803855. doi: 10.1002/adma.201803855. [Epub ahead of print]

Endless Summer

Matt Nowell, EBSD Product Manager, EDAX

My family and I love the beach. We love to swim in the water, ride the waves, and play in the sand. Each summer we typically spend time at Sunset Beach, North Carolina. After years of seeing the cool stuff in the SEM, materials science and microscopy are always topics of discussion. This year, after enjoying the musical Hamilton, my wife was inspired to start working on a periodic table of elements rap song. My 13-year-old learned more about metalworking watching the History Channel show, Forged in Fire, where participants are challenged to make different weapons from assorted metallic sources. My favorite part was watching them evaluate different parts of a bicycle for heat-treatable steel to recycle. One of my favorite moments though was unpacking my beach shoes on the first day.

Generally, when we visit a beach, we try to bring home a shell or a piece of driftwood. However, when I was putting on my shoes for the first time, I noticed some sand was still present. My last beach trip had been to the Cayman Islands. I immediately noticed that this sand looked much different than the sand at Sunset Beach. I decided to save a little bit of each for some microscopy and microanalysis when I got back home.

When I looked at them both more closely, I saw that the sand from Sunset Beach (SB) on the left was much darker with black flecks, while the sand from Grand Cayman (GC) was much lighter. Thinking about the possible composition of the sand got me thinking about the bladesmithing competition held at the TMS annual meetings. One year, the team from UC Berkeley created a sword using magnetite found at local beaches using magnets. I thought it would be interesting to examine both of these sands with my SEM, EDS, and EBSD tools.

Sand grains from Sunset Beach
Sand grains from Sunset Beach.
Sand grains from Grand Cayman
Sand grains from Grand Cayman.

 

Initially I placed a bit of sand on an aluminum stub for SEM and EDS analysis. To reduce charging effects, I used the Low Vacuum capability of our FEI Teneo FEG-SEM, running at 0.1 mbar pressure. Images were collected using the Annular BackScatter (ABS) detector for atomic number contrast imaging. The sand grains from Sunset Beach were generally a little smaller than the Grand Cayman sand, as expected from visual inspection. Both sands exhibited cracking and weathering, which isn’t surprising in hindsight either. Many grains show flat surfaces, with internal structure visible with ABS imaging contrast.

I followed the imaging work with compositional analysis using EDS. The Sunset Beach sand was primarily composed of silicon and oxygen grains, which I suspect is quartz. The single brighter grain in Figure 3 was composed of an iron-titanium oxide. The Grand Cayman sand was primarily a calcium carbonate (Ca-C-O) material. The more needle shaped grains were primarily sodium and chlorine, which I assume is then salt that has solidified during the evaporation of the water. All this leads me to believe I really didn’t do a good job of cleaning my shoes after Grand Cayman.

While quartz being present in sand wasn’t surprising to me, the observation of calcium carbonate did remind me of some geological homework I did on the island. The water in Grand Cayman was very clear, which made it great for snorkeling. We swam around and saw a coral reef, a sunken ship, lots of fish, and stingrays. To understand why the water was so clear, I read that it was the lack of topsoil, and the erosion and runoff of topsail to the water that was responsible for the clarity. Looking again at this reference, it mentions that the top layer of the island is primarily composed of carbonates. The erosion of this material would explain the primary composition of the beach sand in my shoes.

Of course, the next step now is analyzing these sands with EBSD to determine the crystal structure of the materials. I’ve started the process. I’ve mounted some of the sand in epoxy, and hand polished to get some flat surfaces for analysis. I’m able to get EBSD patterns, but getting a good background is going to be tricky. I think the next step will be to watch my colleague Shawn Wallace’s webinar on Optimizing Backgrounds on MultiPhase samples to be presented on September 27th. You can also register for this here.

In the meantime, I’ll keep the sand samples on my desk to remind me of summer as the colder Utah winters will be approaching. It will be a good reason to stay inside and write the next chapter of this analysis for another blog post.

Vacationing Between a Rock and a Hard Place?

Shawn Wallace, Applications Engineer, EDAX.

One of the perks of both my degree (Geology) and my current job is that I have travelled extensively. In all those travels, I had been to 47 of the 48 contiguous US States, with Maine being the missing one. This year, I decided to be selfish and dragged the family to Maine on vacation, so I that could tick off the final one.

Being a member of the Wallace family means vacation is a time for strenuous hikes and beating on rocks to unlock their inner goodies, to add to our ever growing rock and mineral collection. This vacation was no different. Maine is home to some of the best studied and known Pegmatites, and they quickly became our goal. Pegmatites are neat for a several reasons, the main two being that they tend to form giant crystals (a 19 foot long Beryl found in Maine) and weird minerals in general tend to form in them.

I was able to track down some publicly accessible sites, found a lovely home base to rent for the week, and we set off for a week long rockhounding adventure. Ok not all week. We took a couple days off to go swimming, as it got up over 90F (>32C).

Figure 1. Dendrites cover this massive feldspar sample on nearly all faces.

Our first stops yielded the usual kind of rocks I was expecting, but another site did not. There we found dendrites everywhere. The rock itself is a massive feldspar (Fig. 1). You can see that most of the dendrites nucleate at the edge of a fracture surface and then do their fractal thing on the surface itself. Wanting to better understand the sample, I started searching for previous EBSD work on geological dendrites. While a lot exists in the metals world, very little exists in the geological world. To me, this means I have work to do. Let’s see what I can do to get some useful data on this sample!

P.S. I have Alaska and Hawaii to go. Who needs an onsite training in those states? 😉