By observing how light bounces, scatters, is emitted, or is absorbed, scientists can tell a lot about the specific material. X-ray spectroscopy specifically refers to looking at the light in the X-ray portion of the electromagnetic radiation spectrum to gather information about various forms of matter. X-rays have wavelengths of 0.01-10 nanometers and a frequency in the range of 30 petahertz to 30 exahertz. These specific wave properties allow X-rays to penetrate through various objects. X-rays are most commonly associated with medical X-ray scans which allow radiologists to see the bones of a patient without having to cut into them.
In X-ray spectroscopy, the sample is struck with high-energy particles resulting in the material emitting X-rays. When they are hit by these high-energy particles, the individual atom’s electrons transition, either gaining energy or losing energy, which then results in them emitting X-ray photons. These emitted photons possess properties that are characteristically unique to the materials that they are emitted from. By comparing a sample’s spectral data with that of a known substance, detailed information about the sample can then be obtained. This excitation can be triggered by electrons, other high-energy charged particles, or beams of X-rays. There are different techniques within X-ray spectroscopy that test for specific properties, use specific types of equipment, and are made to test for specific types of materials. Most techniques, however, involve analyzing how the material disperses radiation to determine aspects of its atomic structure and elemental makeup.
Let's review X-ray spectroscopy applications, the various types of X-ray spectrometers available, and the general costs of instrumentation.
This method performs substance analysis by X-ray or gamma-ray excitation to illicit fluorescent X-rays from it. The short-wave radiation is able to energize atoms inside the sample’s atoms and cause them to eject an electron. Also known as ionization, this process produces energy in the form of a photon. No two elements have identical radiation signatures, making this resulting light energy similar to a fingerprint in that it can classify what elements make up the compound. Its low cost, ease of sample preparation, and general operability make it widely used. Extracting the elemental characteristics of a material is done by comparing the substances wavelength dispersive spectrum chart with spectrum charts of known elements. Effective in chemistry, archeology, and in the investigation of materials, XRF has difficulty with small batches of samples and is best used when sampling in bulk.
EDXS, also referred to as energy dispersive X-ray analysis (EDXA), measures the X-ray radiation that is emitted from an object after it is hit with high-energy charged particles. This method is mainly used for chemical characterization and elemental analysis of materials. The primary components for EDXS are an excitation source, a detector, a pulse processor, and an analyzer. A popular use for EDXS is electron microscopy. EDXS is one of the two main X-ray spectroscopy techniques.
Besides EDXS, WDXS is the most commonly used X-ray spectroscopy technique primarily used for chemical analysis. At its core, it counts the number of X-rays that are diffracted by a crystal at a specific wavelength. This method of a single wavelength and crystal lattice spacing analysis is made possible by Bragg’s law. Unlike EDXS, WDXS only focuses on a single wavelength at a time rather than analyzing a broad spectrum of energies simultaneously. Due to WDXRS’s high spectral resolution and greater quantitative potential, it is a complementary technique to EDXS
To quantitatively measure the elemental composition of the surface of a material X-ray electron spectroscopy can be employed. It is a highly sensitive technique that can measure elemental compositions at the parts-per-thousand range, identify binding states of elements, and give information about the material’s electron states. Unlike other X-ray spectroscopy techniques, XPS can not only determine what elements are present within a thin film, but also what elements are bonded to it.
XAS is a spectroscopic technique used to determine the local geometric and electronic structure of a sample in a gaseous, solid, or liquid phase. It expands upon two other techniques, extended X-ray absorption fine structure spectroscopy and X-ray absorption near-edge structure spectroscopy. XAS is widely used in the study of amorphous materials where its specific sensitivity to local structures is needed such as studying catalysis, ions in a solution, and microporous materials.
Space exploration has captivated the human imagination ever since our ability to look up at the stars and wonder about their presence. Unfortunately, we still lack the technology to practically travel beyond our solar system to explore deep space celestial bodies. Our curiosity, however, has led us to other techniques to learn about these far off objects without physically having to be there. Spectroscopy is one such technique and recently the Japanese Space Agency has made advances in X-ray spectroscopy that will allow for high-energy resolution imaging spectroscopy with M pixel class X-ray integral field. Currently, high pixel imaging techniques exist, however, their energy resolution has been limited. With this technique, astronomers will not need to choose between image quality and energy resolution. X-ray spectroscopy has been a valuable tool for astronomers to study deep space objects. Though as an imaging technique, it is still in the early stages of development, however, its applications could go beyond just astronomy. Elemental analysis in electron microscopes for objects on earth will also benefit greatly by this improved resolution.
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