Thoughts from a Summer Intern

Kylie Simpson, Summer Intern 2017, EDAX

This summer at EDAX, I have had the opportunity not only to build upon the skills that I acquired here last summer and throughout my academic year, but also to acquire new skills enabling me to better understand energy dispersive spectroscopy (EDS), materials science, and applied physics. Having access to state-of-the-art microscopes, detectors, and literature has certainly played a large role in my take-away from this summer, but the most valuable aspect of my time at EDAX is the expertise of those around me. Working with the applications team provided me with the opportunity to work alongside the different groups, including the engineering, sales and marketing, and technical support groups, as well as with customers via demos, training courses, and webinars. Not to mention the plethora of knowledge within the applications team itself. The willingness of other EDAX employees not only to help me, but also to explain and teach me how to solve the problems I encountered was extremely helpful.

The major projects I worked on this summer were compiling a user manual for the EDAX APEX™ software, collecting data for a steel library, and tuning a PID system for the thermoelectric cooler used in EDAX detectors. Creating a user manual for APEX™ enabled me to fully understand the software and describe it in a clear and useful way for our customers. I used LaTeX™ software to compile the manual, which exposed me to a very powerful typesetting tool while optimizing the layout and accessibility of the manual. Because I was not involved in the design of APEX™, I was able to write the user manual from the perspective of a new user. As a student and a newer user of EDAX software, I have recognized how useful APEX™ is for beginners and hope that the user manual will help to complement its value.

The EDAX APEX™ User Manual.

Figure 1: The EDAX APEX™ User Manual.

The steel library project that I worked on was very interesting because I compiled data that will simplify and aid customers working with steel samples. I collected spectra for nearly 100 steel standards and compared the quant results to the known values to confirm the accuracy of the data. This data will soon be available for purchase by customers who would like to compare the spectra from unknown samples to those of known standards using the spectrum match feature.

Me using one of our scopes to collect data.

Figure 2: Me using one of our scopes to collect data.

Additionally, I was able to work with the engineering team to tune a PID system for the thermoelectric cooler inside all EDAX detectors. The module of each detector must reach a set point temperature in a set period of time and remain stable. By making small changes to the parameters and determining their impact, I ran tests over several weeks to optimize the cooling of the detector. These parameters will be used in future development of EDAX detectors, enabling them to work even more accurately.

Figure 3: The PID system I worked with and me.

Overall, my experience at EDAX has been very positive, providing me with the skills and knowledge to succeed and excel in both academics and my career.

XRF: Old Tech Adapting to New Times

Andrew Lee, Senior Applications Engineer, EDAX

X-rays were only discovered by Wilhelm Roentgen in 1895, but by the early 1900’s, research into X-rays was so prolific that half the Nobel Prizes in physics between 1914 to 1924 were awarded in this relatively new field. These discoveries set the stage for 1925, when the first sample was irradiated with X-rays. We’ve immortalized these early founders by naming formulas and coefficients after them. Names like Roentgen and Moseley seem to harken back to a completely different era of science. But here we are today a century later, still using and teaching those very same principles and formulas when we talk about XRF. This is because the underlying physics has not really changed much, and yet, XRF remains as relevant today as it ever was. You can’t say that for something like telephone technology.

XRF has traditionally been used for bulk elemental analysis, associated with large collimators, and pressed pellet samples. For many decades, these commercial units were not the most sophisticated instruments (although Apollo 15 and 16 in 1971 and 1972 included bulk XRF units). Modern hardware and software innovations to the core technique have allowed XRF to adapt to its surroundings in a way, becoming a useful instrument in many applications where XRF previously had little to offer. Micro-XRF was born this way, combining the original principles with newer hardware and software advancements. In fact, micro-XRF is included on the new NASA rover, scheduled for launch to Mars in 2020.

Biological/life sciences is one of those fields where possibilities are now opening as XRF technology progresses. A great example that comes to mind for both professional and personal reasons is the study of neurodegenerative diseases. Many such diseases, such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), exhibit an imbalance in metal ions such as Cu, Fe, and Zn in the human body. While healthy cells maintain “metal homeostasis”, individuals with these neurodegenerative diseases cannot properly regulate, which leads to toxic reactive oxygen species. For example, reduced Fe and Cu levels can catalyze the production of hydroxyl radicals which lead to damaged DNA and cell death. Imaging the distribution of biological metals in non-homogenized tissue samples is critical in understanding the role of these metals, and hopefully finding a cure. The common language between the people who studied physics versus the people who studied brain diseases? Trace metal distribution!

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to analyze a few slices of diseased human tissue in the EDAX Orbis micro-XRF (Figure 1 and 2), working towards proving this concept. Although the results were not conclusive either way, it was still very interesting to be able to detect and see the distribution of trace Cu near the bottom edge of the tissue sample. XRF provided unique advantages to the analysis process, and provided the necessary elemental sensitivity while maintaining high spatial resolution. This potential has since been recognized by other life science applications, such as mapping nutrient intake in plant leaves or seed coatings.

Figure 1. Stitched montage video image of the diseased human tissue slice, with mapped area highlighted in red. Total sample width ~25 mm.

Figure 1. Stitched montage video image of the diseased human tissue slice, with mapped area highlighted in red. Total sample width ~25 mm.

Figure 2. Overlaid element maps: Potassium{K(K) in green} and Copper {Cu(K) in yellow} from mapped area in Figure 1, showing a clear area of higher Cu concentration. Total mapped width ~7.6 mm.

Figure 2. Overlaid element maps: Potassium{K(K) in green} and Copper {Cu(K) in yellow} from mapped area in Figure 1, showing a clear area of higher Cu concentration. Total mapped width ~7.6 mm.

Sometimes, the application may not be obvious, or it may seem completely unrelated. But with a little digging, common ground can be found between the analysis goal and what the instrument can do. And if the technology continues to develop, there seems to be no limit to where XRF can be applied, whether it be outwards into space, or inwards into the human biology.

Molecular Machines are the Future…

René Jansen, Regional Manager, Europe

The ground in the north of Holland was recently shaking and not because of an earthquake, but because Professor Ben Feringa from the University of Groningen has won the 2016 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on the development of molecular machines.
Feringa discovered the molecular motor — a light-driven rotary molecular motor – which is widely recognized as a spectacular scientific breakthrough.

Electrically driven directional motion of a four-wheeled molecule on a metal surface

Electrically driven directional motion of a four-wheeled molecule on a metal surface

‘Building a moving molecule is not that difficult in itself, but being able to steer it, have control over it, is a different matter.’, he said. Years ago he already presented the first molecular motor, consisting of a molecule, part of which performed a full rotation under the influence of light and heat. He has designed many different engines since, including a molecular ‘4-wheel drive’ car. By fixating the engine molecules to a surface, he developed a nano ‘mill park’ in which the mills rotate when exposed to light. And last year he described the world’s first symmetrical molecular engine. Feringa also succeeded in putting these molecular engines to work, having them turn a glass cylinder 10,000 times their size. Amazing.

Feringa is internationally recognized as a pioneer in the field of molecular engines. One of the potential applications of his engines is the delivery of medication inside the human body.
I recently heard an interview with him, in which he promoted the idea that universities should be playgrounds, where scientists must be able to do whatever they want to create real breakthroughs. Today, the ability of universities to create these playgrounds is limited due to a constant reduction of budgets over recent years. It would be interesting to know how the University of Groningen has managed to do this.

Another, less famous, department at the University of Groningen is working on the formation/deformation of materials which are exposed to high temperature (> 1000 degrees Celsius). Measuring EBSD patterns while temperature increases, shows that new crystals are formed at a certain temperature. Now my hopes are that this “playground” too will end up in a few years from now with a Nobel prize for a breakthrough in Materials Science.