New X-Ray Diffraction Tool Could Help Create 3D Views of Different Materials

Nothing brings scientists together like the possibility of better, more versatile research. Case in point: seeing the need for a new instrument that will accelerate research at one of the world's most productive X-ray light sources, a group of scientists have banded together to build it.

This new tool will allow more X-ray experiments to create 3D views of a wide range of materials, enabling materials discovery and opening new options for users.

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory have been using beamline 1-ID at the laboratory's Advanced Photon Source (APS), a DOE Office of Science User Facility, to make nondestructive X-ray diffraction measurements of ceramics, metals, and other polycrystalline materials on the grain scale.

Users come to the laboratory from around the world with their samples, from which Argonne's beamline scientists help collect and analyze this 3D grain-resolved data.

"Essentially, you could think that there are many places with wading pools in their backyards, but this instrument, by comparison, will be an Olympic swimming pool." -- Bob Suter, emeritus professor of physics at Carnegie Mellon University

Because of the beamline's inherently flexible nature, particularly for in situ measurements, and its ability to provide cutting-edge information about varied materials, it has proven very popular with the research community. So popular, in fact, that wait times to use the instrument have increased.

As a result, in an instance of coordinated pioneering leadership between Argonne and several other institutions around the country, scientists have formed a consortium to lead the development of a new instrument. This new device, called the High-Throughput High-Energy Diffraction Microscopy Instrument (HT-HEDM), will be housed at the APS and will provide a more assembly line-like approach to obtaining this 3D data.

HT-HEDM is located in the 6-ID-D end-station, which along with the 1-ID beamline has a superconducting undulator which delivers world-leading X-ray fluxes in the high-energy range (40-120 keV).

It will enable high-throughput X-ray diffraction imaging experiments, providing a one-stop shop for a range of different studies. This will also enable researchers greater use of the 1-ID beamline for technique development that will be useful when the laboratory's APS Upgrade comes online in a few years' time.

"This new instrument will take pressure off the measurements that we're doing now at 1-ID, so that we can create techniques that take advantage of the added brilliance and coherence of the upgraded storage ring," said Jonathan Almer, physicist and group leader with Argonne's X-ray Science division.

HT-HEDM will use high-energy X-rays for nondestructive analyses of materials, creating 3D representations that can be repeatedly observed over time.

"One of the advantages of this kind of diffraction is that you can look at the same sample multiple times and see how its characteristics and structure change," said Bob Suter, an emeritus professor of physics at Carnegie Mellon University and a founding member of the consortium that is leading the construction at 6-ID-D.

Some examples of such materials include components for aerospace and nuclear reactors, where microstructural changes occur due to temperature, mechanical stresses and (in the latter case) irradiation. When the APS Upgrade arrives, Almer and his colleagues envision using these techniques to investigate energy materials such as cathodes and anodes for batteries.

"Right now, the grain size of battery components is too small to resolve with these techniques, but the APS Upgrade will give us the opportunity to examine many of them with sufficient resolution," Almer said.

Because HT-HEDM will allow for researchers to swap in and out samples and experiments much more easily, Almer envisions being able to do mail-order experiments. "You could imagine that once we're up and running, people from around the world could send us their samples, and we could collect the data and send it back to them, much like is being done at other beamlines at the APS," he said.

One particular advantage of the new instrumentation is its ability to take measurements that are similar to -- but more sensitive than -- electron back-scattered diffraction measurements, which are able to be taken at hundreds of laboratories around the country.

"Essentially, you could think that there are many places with wading pools in their backyards, but this instrument, by comparison, will be an Olympic swimming pool," Suter said.

The consortium building the instrument includes faculty at and funding from Carnegie Mellon University, Purdue University, the Colorado School of Mines and the University of Utah. Major funding is provided by the National Science Foundation's Major Research Instrumentation Program; the APS provides extensive personnel, logistics, and engineering support. The APS is supported by the DOE's Office of Science.


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