AN ANALYTICAL XRAY SERVICES LABORATORY
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I spend a great deal of time meeting with XRD and XRF users throughout the year, but usually in the context of some problem or time-sensitive project. Luckily I’ve been able to attend the Denver X-ray Conference fairly consistently over the last few years. It’s a great time to catch up with other users who are as deeply invested in X-ray spectroscopy and crystallographic analysis as we are. The vendors always put on a great show in the exhibit hall and poster sessions.

The first three days of the week are filled with technical workshops focused on an array of topics. There are always some introductory classes for both XRD and XRF for new users to attend and then there will be additional topics which are usually more advanced. The educational opportunities alone are well worth the attendance fee. Each session is run by an expert in the field and questions, even from industrial users, are welcomed. The sessions are strictly non-sales oriented as well which lends the event a very egalitarian feeling. See the full program here.

Plenary sessions and more sales-oriented meetings occur later in the week and are a great way to get a feel for the cutting edge technology being released by the various vendors. The exhibit hall opens a few days into the conference so everyone has a few days to see all the different booths. We always spend a great deal of time at the Materials Data, Inc and Bruker-AXS booths in particular.

The conference moves between Westminster, CO just North of Denver, Chicago, IL and Big Sky, MO. I’ve never made the trek up to Big Sky, but I hear it’s beautiful. Some attendees only come when it’s up there.

I’d love to connect with as many of our readers as possible so contact us if you’ll be there and I’ll be sure to see you while I’m at DXC-Big Sky!

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

 

I stumbled into Dondero’s Rock Shop a few weeks ago and struck up a conversation with the owner. He had been interested in geology all his life and was now operating a very nice shop in North Conway, NH with just about every type of mineral one could imagine on display. It was a great opportunity to have an expert identify a few specimens my boys had collected the previous day and he was more than happy to help. These were very large single crystals of relatively common minerals, but it was obvious that experience makes all the difference when one is trying to identify them by sight. I offered to return the favor by collecting XRD data on anything that ever managed to stump his well trained eye and he immediately brought out an interesting sedimentary formation which he’d sliced into cross to sections. He had been very curious about its composition and I brought home a sample. My technical expertise is primarily in the hardware we use at Texray while the real science is handled by other, more highly skilled hands, but this seemed like a fun little project and good practice if nothing else.

Geological samples are particularly difficult to analyze by XRD as they contain various defects which are difficult if not impossible to model based on theoretical data. Our precious Rietveld refinements roll off of this type of data like water off a ducks back all too often and we’re left wondering how on earth this mud could be mistaken for moon rocks. As wonderful as Rietveld is in well-trained hands, we tend to rely much more on comparative data when we’re working with this type of sample. We can thank Dennis Eberl of USGS in Boulder, CO for bringing RockJock into the world to solve exactly these types of problems. RockJock is relies on what’s called RIR. That is Relative Intensity Ratio analysis to provide both qualitative and quantitative results. The  algorithm has been massaged into a number of commercial products in an effort to improve the user interface and add additional functionality, but the core of all that is still readily available on the internet for anyone interested to download. If you’re interested in something a little more user friendly, we offer ClaySim from MDI.

To the left you can see the data I collected after mild grinding. It’s not uncommon to spend several hours collecting data before it’s adequate for quantification or other advance analysis, but as we’re only interested in qualitative phase ID, this will more than suffice. I was quite surprised to find only two major phases present since the sample clearly shows four distinct layers with completely different coloration. The scan actually ran all the way to 120°2Θ, but the “action” is mostly concentrated at the lower angles. Hardcore geologist actually push the lower limit all the way down to 2.5°2Θ in an effort to catch a few illusive peaks. The analysis program you see here is MDI Jade 2010. It’s their flagship product and for good reason. Almost all of our users are running some form of Jade for their analysis and all have had nothing but glowing praise for it.

So it appears that the mystery rock was actually little more than Quartz and Dickite. It’s possible that there’s a bit of Kaolinite mixed in there as well, particularly because Dickite and Kaolinite share a chemical composition. The real fun started when I let Jade loose using a feature called “One Click Analysis”. This is as close to a “black box” as XRD analysis will ever get. With good data collected on a solid, well-aligned XRD, this little button can provide impressive results with no user input at all. It’s not the magic bullet for every situation, but in this case, it recommended yet another phase with the same chemical composition as Kaolinite and Dickite. Nacrite. Adding this into our phase list improved the difference pattern and allowed Jade to model nearly every bump in the pattern.

As  the owner of KS Analytical Systems, I’ve seen XRD and XRF instrumentation used throughout industry and academia. Over the years we’ve expanded from a simple, on-site service company to a much more comprehensive organization offering complete systems, software and hardware upgrades and even sample preparation equipment. As our demo laboratory has grown to include more and more systems of increasing complexity, we started looking for an opportunity to put our in-house systems to good use. Texray Laboratory Services was founded to serve existing KSA customers who needed specialty work, method generation and training services as well as the greater industrial and scientific community with routine qualitative and quantitative analysis. We’ll be using this blog to showcase special applications and interesting projects so come back often.