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The dreaded “amorphous” hump created by x-rays scattering off plastic sample holders has plagued XRD users for decades. It’s a serious enough problem that we make a good volume of these holders from Aluminum which works very well for loose powders. The plastic scatters xrays at around 13 degrees 2Theta (Cu anode tube) which make a real mess of most geological patterns and isn’t fun to model out for Rietveld refinement. Zero background holders like our ZBH-32 work wonderfully in standard sample stages designed for a single sample at a time, but the large plate isn’t compatible with the autosampler.

I recently had a request for a hybrid holder which would allow for analysis of very small volumes of materials while retaining compatibility with the autosampler. This is almost identical to our standard powder holders, but with a well designed specifically for our small ZBH plate.

Key features include:

  • 6061-T6 Al material (anodized or as-machined)
  • Si(510) plate
  • Raised sample well minimizes the area of the sample holder in the plane of diffraction. (Original Siemens design)
  • Beveled well walls minimize the area of Al in the plane of diffraction
  • Other small modifications are made to improve reliability of these holders in the autosampler

The majority of the samples we receive come in volumes high enough to completely fill the well in any of our standard sample holders. Some are too large or oddly shaped which calls for a special holding solution like those listed here, but many are simply very small quantities of powder. Placing these in a standard holder would leave them well outside the plane of diffraction and provide terrible data, not to mention substantial scatter
or diffracted background from whatever the powder is placed on. The answer is a zero background sample holder (ZBH). Most our users at KS Analytical Systems run the original Siemens/Bruker plates, but others are using Si(100) and even glass substrates. We’re very happy to say that
we’re able to offer a direct replacement for these with our new ZBH-32 holders. These fit most Siemens XRD systems and can be customized for use in most any other system. Contact us for more information on this. The scan below shows the data collected from a single mg of Silicon 640B standard powder spread across a ZBH.

Off Planar Quartz ZBH w-1mg 640B

Full scan of 1mg Silicon 640B standard spread across a ZBH


ZBH-32 sample holders mounted for Siemens and Bruker single sample stages.


Some users report acceptable results using simple glass plates. While there are serious caveats here, it may be a reasonable solution for some users. The issue with amorphous glass is not diffracted peaks in the background, but rather, scatter off the surface. X-ray scattering off a surface is inversely proportional to the average atomic number of that material. That is to say, the lighter the matrix, the more efficiently it will scatter X-rays. This is why we use a pure Graphite sample to characterize the emission spectra of our XRF instrumentation. The glass sample shows the expected scatter “hump” starting at a very low angle and it doesn’t flatten until nearly 100°2Θ. While some of this can be modeled and subtracted with good profile fitting software like Jade 2010, it can be challenging to match the data quality of a good ZBH. We’re working on a series of videos to guide new users through some of these features, but on-site training classes are also available.


Glass plate

Amorphous glass empty

Glass-Qtz-Si510 overlay

Glass, ZBH-32 and off-planar quartz scans overlayed for comparison









Several of our customers in the geological industry use standard Si(100) wafers. These can be a great solution, but again have serious drawbacks for some applications. The Si(100) material creates diffracted peaks which are very sharp and therefore easier to model out sometimes, but also very high as the material is monocrystalline. The scan below shows what happens when one tries to run a normal scan across a bare plate. The largest peaks are actually only one or two which have over loaded the detector and caused it to drop out. All of these scans were collected with our SDD-150 which can handle up to 1×10^6 cps, but for the sake of good comparison, we left it tuned as it would be for a standard pattern. The monocrystalline nature of this material causes big problems, but it also allows for a creative solution. See the second scan for the results of the same measurement with the plate angled 1 degree off of theoretical. With this geometry, it’s unlikely this would affect the data quality dramatically, but the offending peaks are drastically diminished.


Si-100 wafer

Si-100 empty

Si-100 locked vs unlocked

Si-100 standard vs skewed scan











Off-planar Quartz holders have been the industry standard for decades. Historically, these have been made from solid, monocrystalline quartz material cut at a specific angle (6° off the C axis if I’m not mistaken). While these work well, they can be inconsistent. Even some of the OEM holders we’ve tested have shown some peaks which we can’t explain. Talking to some very experienced crystallographers, we find that they’ve had similar experiences.



Off Planar Quartz ZBH

Off-planar Quartz empty

ZBH-32 empty

ZBH-32 empty









We’ve been looking for a better answer for several years, but there are few off-the-shelf materials which work as well as off-planar quartz. The ideal answer was to cut solid Si(100) oriented billets such that the face presented to the diffractometer had no d-spacings which would diffract in the normal range of these machines. This is not unlike the off-planar Quartz method, but the starting material is much more consistent and durable. Si(510) offers very low background as well as the consistency of a manufactured product. The new ZBH-32 sample holders from KSA come in two versions, ZBH-25 and ZBH-32 with the latter being ideally suited for rotating stages and low angle work.





Posted by: In: Uncategorized 25 Aug 2014 0 comments Tags: , , , , ,

The most common practice in powder XRD is to simply fill the recessed well of a sample holder with finely ground powder and start collecting data. That works for a great many users, but everyone is eventually faced with a more complicated situation at some point. At Texray, odd samples and special requirements are the norm. The photos below represent some of the common and not-so-common needs we’ve come across. Many of these are one-off designs fabricated by KS Analytical Systems.

20140825_143140The top row shows the three most common holders we see with various well depths. These are almost exclusively used for loose powders. The goal is to get the surface of the sample into the plane of diffraction with as little of the holder in the beam as possible. The plastic material has a very high scattering coefficient which creates a hump in the data around 13 degrees 2Theta. These are all designed for the 40-position sample changers from Siemens (now Bruker).

The second row gets more interesting with a special holder for high volume instruments. This was designed for magnetic handling and worked great as long as you don’t mind the low angle scatter problem of the plastic and aren’t working with ferrous powders.

The middle is one we use for collecting data from membrane filters. These are notoriously hard to hold down with any precision so they get mounted from the rear and held against a “lip” to keep them both flat, and in the plane of diffraction. They work wonderfully.

Next we have a simple side load sample holder. I’m a big fan of these and use them anytime I’m running loose powders on a single sample stage. It allows the user to load with a very smooth top surface that’s perfectly flat without creating any preferred orientation. Preferred orientation is frequently caused by pressure being applied to the basic top-load holders in an effort to get a flat surface. It is to be avoided whenever possible. Notice that the holders are all Aluminum at this point. Most custom holders are Al or a combination of Al and stainless steel depending upon the special properties desired.

The last row are good examples of odd-shaped sample holders. When you’ve got a rock with one flat surface or a little chip of some material, you still need to keep it in the plane of diffraction. The user simply places a ball of clay in the middle of the holder, the sample goes on top of that and then a glass plate is used to crush the clay (with the sample on top) down such that everything is in plane with the elevates posts. These posts interface with the machine to define the plane of diffraction right across their surface, thus the sample is right where it needs to be without any complicated engineering or microscopic adjustments.


Custom holders for a D500 user. Side load as well as top-load in Al.

Custom holders for a D500 user. Side load as well as top-load in Al.

Side load precision without the possibility of powder falling out at low angles.

Side load precision without the possibility of powder falling out at low angles.

Vacuum holding is common when working with semiconductors or other materials with very consistent thicknesses.

Vacuum holding is common when working with semiconductors or other materials with very consistent thicknesses.

We needed to keep our standards in our desiccator cabinet as well as store membrane filters long-term. Custom laser-cut shelves make this easy.

We needed to keep our standards in our desiccator cabinet as well as store membrane filters long-term. Custom laser-cut shelves make this easy.

A typical run of custom sample holders for a high volume XRD operation. This user actually has a custom loading tool that allows for multiple holders to be filled simultaneously.

A typical run of custom sample holders for a high volume XRD operation. This user actually has a custom loading tool that allows for multiple holders to be filled simultaneously.

This is a completely custom stage designed to hold a large thrust bearing race such that the bottom of the groove is in the plane of diffraction for retained austenite and residual stress measurements.  The bearing is held in place by magnets.

This is a completely custom stage designed to hold a large thrust bearing race such that the bottom of the groove is in the plane of diffraction for retained austenite and residual stress measurements. The bearing is held in place by magnets.


































A great many factors affect the quality of data one can collect on any given instrument, but there are times when simply holding the aliquot is a major hurdle. We spend a great deal of time working out the best ways to hold odd samples and even create custom hardware to do so in some cases. Click here for some of our other posts related to the various sample holders we work with. Choosing the best sample holder for a given project is one thing, but there are also times when a completely different stage is required.

The most common stage is the simple, single sample stage. This relies on three pins to define the plane of diffraction. The sample holder is pressed against these pins by a spring loaded plunger beneath it.

XRD sample holders are easily the most common items we’re asked to machine. Sometimes it’s because they’re no longer available, but usually, it’s to accommodate some special application. Sometimes it’s as simple as making them from Aluminum to allow for cleaning with acetone or other harsh solvents. Other times it has more to do with the clients preferred style of loading or sample volume. The end result is that there’s very little consistency so our process needs to be as versatile as possible. This video highlights the most recent process. It’s hard to see exactly what’s going on through the coolant, but this is a test run of a program to cut special holders for 25mm filter membrane holders for respirable silica measurements (or anything else one might want to deposit onto a 25mm filter). It’s cutting the bottom of one holder and the top of another (each on its own side of the fixture).  A full load of these produces 6 complete holders for every run.

Over the past 15 years, Barnett Shale has become a major resource for natural gas in Texas.  Being located in the North Texas region, it is easy to see the boom of drilling rigs and wells popping up in the suburban and rural areas between Ft. Worth and Denton.  Collaborations between Geologists at universities and major oil companies have put a large amount of research into characterizing shale.  In 2001, Środoń et al. published a journal article in Clays and Clay Minerals that discussed the importance of sample preparation for sediments, such as shale, to be analyzed using X-ray diffraction.

Powder X-ray diffraction is the preferred and best technique to identify and quantify mineral compositions in geological materials such as rocks, sediments, and soils.  Sample preparation and loading are two important factors for accurate quantitative XRD analysis using Rietveld refinement.  Proper sample grinding and using a side-loader or backside loader are common practices to avoid preferred orientation.  At Texray, we have a variety of sample holders for different applications, and we can even custom build holders for those random parts.  However, in this study we wanted to see for ourselves the effect of sample grinding and particle size, and also we wanted to test out our new McCrone Micronizing Mill.  We already knew what the results would be from experience and previous work by Środoń et al., 2001 and Klug and Alexander, 1974, but this was a fun experiment to try with shale.

Shale rock from the North Texas region

Shale Rock from the North Texas region

The rocks (pictured above) were broken up into smaller pieces using a mortar and pestle, and then half was transferred to the McCrone mill for wet grinding and the other half we continued to grind manually using the mortar and pestle.  By the way if you are running out of bench space in the laboratory and are looking for a mill, I highly recommend the McCrone Micronizing Mill because it takes up very the little space and it’s capable of grinding below 10 μm in less than 10 minutes.  After grinding, we loaded the powder samples into a backside loader and analyzed them using a Bruker D5000 X-ray Diffractometer.

Shale XRD Pattern

XRD pattern of Mortar & Pestle Ground Shale (blue) vs McCrone Mill Ground Shale (red)

In the XRD pattern shown above the main differences you will notice between the two grinding methods are peak intensities and a small 2-theta peak shift.  Both of these differences are effects related to particle size distribution and sample loading.  Wet grinding the shale in a McCrone Mill creates smaller uniform particles (~5μm), therefore when loading the sample into holders the powders pack easier and tighter creating a denser layer of material for the X-rays to penetrate, hence higher peak intensities compared to manual grinding.  Sample preparation is one of the most important aspects to quantitative XRD because of preferred orientation and sample displacement.  In order to reduce user error such as, induced preferred orientation, it is essential we learn from previous research and take the proper steps to prepare samples.  The ICDD is a great source for free literature on applications involving XRD and XRF.  We will be posting more discussions on sample preparation and applications in the future.

Posted by: In: 17 Oct 2013 0 comments

X-ray diffraction (XRD) is a method used to measure crystalline substances (or phases) within a solid material.  XRD produces a diffraction pattern that is distinctive for each material and is used like a fingerprint and stored in a large database to used identify components in a sample.  XRD is an ideal non-destructive technique used to

  • Identify crystalline phases and orientation
  • Determine structural properties such as, crystallite size, strain, lattice parameters, phase composition, and preferred orientation
  • Determine atomic arrangement
  • Measure phase composition and thickness of thin films


Sample size and preparation

Powder X-ray diffractometers are highly versatile instruments that can measure more than just powder but also bulk metals, fabricated parts, coatings, polymers, etc. (Check out our blog for an example of customized sample holders).  For powder XRD it is important for a sample to have a smooth surface, therefore we typically grind powder samples down to a small particle size using a micronizing mill.  Ideal sample size for powders is 1+ grams and solid objects >1cm2 surface area, but we can also work with smaller quantities if necessary.


Texray Instruments

Texray has a wide range of hardware, such as multi-position sample changer, grazing incidence attachment, Göbel mirror, omega stage, xyz-stage, non-ambient temperature stages, and multiple X-ray tube sources, to improve the speed of data collection and offer a variety of applications.