AN ANALYTICAL XRAY SERVICES LABORATORY
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The D2 Phaser 6-position autosampler uses a completely different sample holder that their other systems. We’ve just completed our first production run of these blanks so they’ll be ready for custom orders. Contact KSA for more information.

XRD patterns are complicated by a variety of undesirable effects. Some of which are easy to deal with, others are unavoidable. One of the issues we see often is scattering and diffraction effects that are actually being caused by the sample holder itself. These effects can usually be modeled out, but simply knowing which artifacts are being generated from scatter off the sample holder vs amorphous content or phases present in the sample itself can make the difference between an easy analysis and a grinding, iterative march toward a final result. One of the most common effect we see is scatter from plastic sample holders. Most of the sample holders we produce are either Aluminum or PMMA plastic, but either way, one of the easiest ways to avoid undesirable scatter is to simply enlarge the sample well. We’ve been doing this for decades on the standard, non-rotating sample holders by cutting a large, rectangular well rather than the standard, 25mm circular well.

This week we did a little experiment to see just how much larger our sample well needed to be to eliminate the common PMMA hump at ~13 degrees 2Theta (Cu energy). It turns out that an increase of only 5mm in diameter made a huge difference in the total scatter even with very “wide-open” optics. See the scan images below for a real-world picture of the difference we saw. This may not seem like a significant problem until you’re looking for phases with D-spacings down in that region near the hump. Analysis of clay minerals can become particularly complicated. This is a great example of why we love talking to clients and XRD users around the world.

We often receive requests for small powder wells to be ground into our zero-background sample holder plates. I usually try to talk the requestor out of this as it has limited usefulness for most applications, but there are some reasons one might benefit from this type of holder. It’s for these special cases that we’ve always offered custom ground wells in our ZBH plates and we continually improve our process to give our clients exactly what they want and need to get their work done.

There are three reasons I try to avoid this.

  1. It adds cost. The very small grinding tools required for this cut very slowly. This is partially to avoid building up heat in the plate which will shatter if it goes too far. In the foolishness of my youth I once tried to score large wafers with a CO2 laser. After two passes it would explode leaving about 50% waste material, but it got the job done. Heat is your enemy when it comes to very hard materials like this. We also don’t use pre-ground plates. Each one is machined from a flat plate after it’s been mounted in the sample holder to ensure perfect alignment with the plane of diffraction¬†while also giving us the freedom to cut any shape/depth we could want. I.e. if one wanted a square or oval shaped pocket, we could machine that. All this flexibility adds up to additional work/time which adds to the cost of each holder.
  2. It’s often unnecessary. If you have enough material to fill most wells, it probably won’t be transparent to x-rays anyway. I find that many users of sample holders with wells could get by without them by simply using a smaller well in a standard sample holder. The additional scatter from PMMA plastic may or may not be a problem, but if the user can live with it, it’s a huge cost saver.
  3. As soon as we break the surface, we’re no longer dealing with a monocrystalline material. I’ve never seen any practical evidence that this causes a problem, but it’s always concerned me that grinding these plates essentially creates a polycrystalline material at the surface of the well. I would love to hear from anyone who’s ever seen a weak Si pattern superimposed on their data.

One alternative I often recommend is recessing the entire plate by some number of microns to accommodate different particle sizes if that’s a concern. I believe that many XRD users are asking for sample wells in their ZBH simply to avoid the displacement error inherent in mounting their powder on top of a plate which has already been fixed at the plane of diffraction. Recessing the plate allows us to retain the polished surface of the ZBH and allows us to mount it with at least the same degree of precision that a well would provide. Precision mounting adds about as the same cost as grinding, but it definitely has benefits. To my knowledge, KSA is the only company offering this type of mounting.

So that was an awful lot of reasons to avoid this, but there is one very big benefit of using a ZBH with a ground well. This allows you to run very small volumes of sample material while maintaining a very consistent irradiated area. Imagine the same volume of powder spread across a flat plate. Each time this is done, a slightly (if not significantly) different surface area of the plate is likely to be presented. The end result of this will be variations in intensity and perhaps preferred-orientation. Particle statistics change with varying numbers of crystallites in the plane of diffraction as well. This is all complicated by the changes in the irradiated area throughout a normal scan with divergent-beam optics.

The well pictured here is 12mm in diameter and 0.2mm in depth and a good example of the kind of custom work that is most common for us.

Posted by: In: Uncategorized 03 Jan 2018 0 comments Tags: , , , ,

Most of the zero-background sample holders we make are designed with permanently affixed plates. We prefer this dramatically as loose plate are constantly getting dropped, chipped, or lost. However, a permanently affixed plate also gives us the freedom to precisely (within about 0.02mm) set the depth of the plate below the plane of diffraction. This can make a big difference in the results depending upon the volume of powder loaded as the standard “flush mount” puts the plate exactly in the plane of diffraction. This works fine for very small volumes, but it does guaranty the there will be a displacement error of some magnitude regardless of the particle size or volume. For this reason, we always offer custom recessing as an option. The only drawback to the permanently affixed style of mounting is that the offset (or flush mounting height) cannot be changed. Our preferred solution is to simply create a set of holders with various depths to accommodate different sample thicknesses, but we had a request recently for an infinitely variable mounting solution.

Complicating the project is that the holder was to be used in a D2 Phaser with a 6 position autosampler which does not use the same style of base holder as the single-sample variant or any other Bruker XRD that we’re aware of. We discussed several options. The large number of heights needed made multiple holders, spacers, and any other solution that relied on discreet steps unacceptable. The thin-walled sample bases and relatively¬†tight dimensions made a screw-in insert unrealistic as well. The final solution was to build a custom tool for setting the ZBH at a specific depth. This requires the user to work with bare Si plates, but it meets all the design criteria and we’re hopeful that this will work well for them.

The tool is made from acetal (Delrin) plastic which is extremely resistant to chemicals, adhesion, and abrasion. It’s actually an ideal material for threaded parts and machines very well.