There are many reasons why industries invest in the analysis of materials. At its most complex, material analysis is integral to scientific research. At its most mundane, material analysis can be used for color matching a particular paint for decoration.
The field of materials, including their production and replication, is vast and influences every industry and business. One particular method of analysis is in wide use and should take serious consideration if materials need investigating.
What is X-Ray Diffraction?
X-ray Diffraction has been in use since the early 20th century to probe and analyze materials at an atomic level. It has been used to investigate materials such as vitamins and proteins, as well as minerals and alloys.
If a material is to be analyzed through XRD a sample of its crystals (which make up any given material) must be obtained for investigation. It should be a fairly large, regular sample which has no structural imperfections. This is often the most time-consuming task in the analysis.
The sample can then be placed in a field of intense X-Ray beams and rotated gradually. The beams are reflected on the crystals and are caused to ‘bend’ as they bounce through different angles. This process is known as diffraction. Any changes in the beam's intensity and the angles they bounce at are recorded. This must be done many times to find anomalies or confluences which can then be recorded as the unique atomic make-up of the sample.
These recordings are entered into a public database and can be compared to other materials. The final analysis is called the crystal structure of the material.
What are its uses?
The complex science of XRD shouldn’t put anyone off of using it for their business. In the past, it has been instrumental in the pharmaceutical industry. It has been an important way, for instance, of analyzing how proteins interact with one another, and the atomic behavior of materials that go into life-saving treatments. It has also been used to analyze materials found in the process of planetary exploration, such as the Mars Rover program.
But it has also facilitated and informed new and improved farming techniques. XRD can be used to investigate crop failure or why particular seed strains thrive and why others don’t. It can be used to build stronger materials for equipment or even breeding programs when used to investigate DNA.
Since its inception, it has been instrumental in environmental science as well. The international databases of XRD-acquired crystal structures have thousands upon thousands of soil, rocks and mineral samples that are used to map the changing climate. It may be that it becomes a key factor in addressing the accelerating weather conditions across the globe.
What is the future of XRD?
For much of its lifetime, XRD has been a painstaking process. But as digital technology has begun to catch up, the process of collection, analysis, and application of crystal structure has begun to speed up. With the use of integrated AI, edge technology and the Internet of Things, XRD has become digitized and integrated with ever-increasing circles of industry and science.