1 1 / 38 Lectures about XRF (X-Ray Fluorescence) Advanced Physics Laboratory Laurea Magistrale in Fisica year Camerino
2 2 / 38 X-ray Fluorescence XRF is an acronym for X-Ray Fluorescence. The XRF technique is considered one of the most widespread and useful methods for the determination of presence and quantity of the elements in a given substance. X-ray fluorescence is a consequence of the ionization of atoms, for which the excited state returns to the ground state emitting x-ray photons of well-defined energies. The characteristic x-ray emission can be induced either by interaction with charged particles or with x-ray photons generated by a Coolidge tube. The XRF technique here discussed is based on the primary excitation of a x-ray beam, followed by the secondary x-ray fluorescence emission. The x-ray emission is then detected and analysed by a photon detector, usually a solid state device characterized by a sufficient energy resolution.
3 3 / 38 X-ray Fluorescence As an example, a typical tube used as a x-ray generator (known as Coolidge tube) is described in the following figure: There are of course many alternative ways of producing x-rays: rotating anodes, radioisotopes (Fe 55, Cd 109, Am 241 ), storage rings.
4 This device was designed by William Coolidge in The Coolidge tube, also called hot cathode tube, is the most widely used. It works with a good quality vacuum (about 10 4 Pa, or 10 9 Atm). In the Coolidge tube, the electrons are produced by thermionic effect from a tungsten filament heated by an electric current. The filament is the cathode of the tube. The high voltage potential is between the cathode and the anode, the electrons are thus accelerated, and then hit the anode. 4 / 38
5 Usually in this (sidewindow) tubes we find an Electrostatic Lens to focus the beam onto a very small spot on the anode. The anode is specially designed to dissipate the heat and wear resulting from this intense focused barrage of electrons: Mechanically spun to increase the area heated by the beam. Cooled by circulating coolant.the anode is angled at 120 degrees off perpendicular to the electron current so as to allow escape of some of the X-ray photons which are emitted essentially perpendicular to the direction of the electron current. The anode is usually made out of W, Mo, or Cu. The tube has a window designed for escape of the generated Xray photons. The power of a Coolidge tube usually ranges from 1 to 4 kw. 5 / 38
6 The x-ray emission spectrum at the anode consists basically in two components: the Bremsstrahlung (deceleration) radiation and the x-ray fluorescence pattern. The first is a continuous spectrum extending up to the limiting electron energy (for example 20 kev if the potential difference between the anode and the cathode is 20 kv). The x-ray fluorescent pattern is instead composed by well-defined peaks located at energy (or wavelengths) typical of the atomic constituents of the anode. These energies reflects the electronic structure of the atoms. The origin of the Bremsstrahlung is due to the deceleration imposed to the electrons arriving inside the anode from the surface, while the xray fluorescence pattern is due to the emission of photons as a result of a de-excitation of the electrons of the atomic core levels (originally excited as a result of the collisions with the electrons of the incoming beam. 6 / 38
7 X-ray Fluorescence: the x-ray source 7 / 38
8 8 / 38 X-ray Fluorescence XRF is a non-invasive technique, leaving the sample unchanged after application. In fact, the electrons involved in the x-ray emission processes are those related to the core levels and for this reason chemical bonds, structure and morphology are not affected. Moreover, the number of excitation processes is low as compared to the available electrons (weak field approximation, valid for all of the x-ray sources except free-electron lasers). A notable exception for the application of XRF is on bio-materials, for which changes can be observed. The samples do not usually need any specific preparation because the energy of the exciting photons is usually high enough (10-30 kev) allowing us to analyse depths of the order of 10 microns or more.
9 9 / 38 X-ray Fluorescence The examination of the XRF spectra allows us to identify the atomic species present in a given sample. In fact, the energy of the x-ray emission lines is a well-defined function of the atomic number Z (see following slides). For its powerful information content and simple application methodology, the XRF technique is applied in many different contexts and fields, from basic physics to chemistry, material science and mineralogy.
10 10 / 38 X-ray Fluorescence Atomic levels involved in the emission of x-ray emission according to the accepted terminology (line K α1 corresponds to a transition from the L 3 (2p 3/2 ) to the K (1s) level).
11 11 / 38 X-ray Fluorescence X-ray emission spectra (K, L, M) ordered according to the atomic number of the elements.
12 12 / 38 X-ray Fluorescence Typical Fluorescence pattern obtained using an energy-dispersive detector.
13 13 / 38 X-ray Fluorescence For light (Mg, Al, Si, Ca..) or medium-z (Cr, Fe, Cu, Ag..) elements the x-ray emission lines of the K series are used preferentially (those involving the 1s core electrons). For heavier elements (like Au, Pb..) the L emission lines, falling in the useful x-ray range under investigation, are used. Those lines involved transitions to the upper levels 2s, 2p 3/2, 2p 1/2. There are different methods for collecting XRF spectra depending on the particular experimental needs, basically divided into energy and angular dispersive techniques.
14 14 / 38 X-ray Fluorescence The XRF collected in Wavelength Dispersive mode (WDX, or WDAX, or WDS) the spectrum of emitted photons is measured after a monochromator (crystal). This method is based on a complex experimental set-up and usually requires longer collection times but can give an excellent energy resolution. The rapid collection of x-ray emission patterns is allowed by the use of modern solid-state detectors coupled with standard multi-channel electronics for photon counting. Those detectors can have sufficient energy resolution to identify different emission lines and are at the basis of the energy dispersive spectrometry (EDS, EDX or Energy Dispersive Analysis X-EDAX)). The experimental set-up may be portable.
16 16 / 38 X-ray Fluorescence: detectors There are several limitations of the solid-state detectors including their resolution and energy-dependent efficiency, which is also limited for low energies by the Be window protecting the detector (light elements can not be detected). The Be window is used for two main reasons: 1. Protection of the solid-state (Si or Ge typically) 2. Preservation of the internal vacuum conditions, in which the sensor is cooled down (using liquid nitrogen or thermoelectric devices) avoiding condensation of water onto the detector.
17 17 / 38 X-ray Fluorescence: detectors Transmission of a Be window (thickness of 10 µm)
18 X-ray Fluorescence: detectors Good solid-state detectors consist essentially of a microns thick silicon junction type p-i-n diode (PIN) with a bias up to 1000 V across it. The lithium-drifted centre part forms the non-conducting i-layer, where Li compensates the residual acceptors which would otherwise make the layer p-type. When an X-ray photon passes through, it causes a swarm of electron-hole pairs to form, and this causes a voltage pulse. To obtain sufficiently low conductivity, the detector must be maintained at low temperature, and liquid-nitrogen must be used for the best resolution. With some loss of resolution, the much more convenient Peltier cooling can be employed. 18 / 38
19 X-ray Fluorescence: detectors Ordinary Silicon PIN photodiodes can serve as detectors for X-ray and gamma ray photons. The detection efficiency is a function of the thickness of the silicon wafer. For a wafer thickness of 300 microns (ignoring attenuation in the diode window and/or package) the detection efficiency can is close to 100% at 10 KeV, falling to approximately 1% at 150 KeV(3). For energies above approximately 60 KeV, photons interact almost entirely through Compton scattering. Moreover, the active region of the diode is in electronic equilibrium with the surrounding medium the diode package, substrate, window and outer coating, etc., so that Compton recoil electrons which are produced near and close enough to penetrate the active volume of the diode, are also detected. For this reason the overall detection efficiency at 150 KeV and above is maintained fairly constant (approximately 1%) over a wide range of photon energies. A silicon PIN diode can be thought of as a solid-state equivalent to an ionization-chamber radiation detector. 19 / 38
20 X-ray Fluorescence: detectors 20 / 38
21 X-ray Fluorescence: detectors Knowledge of the photon collection yield of the detector is important for a quantitative analysis of the XRF spectra. 21 / 38
22 22 / 38 X-ray Fluorescence An important feature of the XRF is the possibility of performing a chemical analysis in a rapid and non-distructive way. In particular this technique allows us: a) Qualitative analysis for the identification of the elements through the position of the typical x-ray emission lines in the XRF spectra. b) Quantitative analysis that needs an accurate data-analysis accounting for the intensity of the different x-ray emission lines. The measured intensity depends in fact on a number of factors including the characteristic of the source, of the detector, of the geometry, and sample morphology. The use of standards with known concentration of the elements under investigation is particularly important for precise determinations.
23 23 / 38 X-ray Fluorescence Qualitative analysis, limited to the identification of the atomic species, is relatively simple. Nevertheless, in some cases there is an almost perfect overlap of emission lines of two successive series (L e K, M ed L,... ) hindering the identification of some elements. In those cases, a better energy resolution of the detector (obtained for example using an angular dispersive technique) may be necessary. When the emission lines are overlapped and/or the concetration of one of the elements is very low, the identification of the presence of a selected atomic species may be not possible and further inspections may be needed.
24 24 / 38 X-ray Fluorescence Fluorescence yield for K and L levels. The excited states (ionization of core electrons) created by the interaction with the primary photons (or by other processes) are followed by a recombination process following different routes (schematically divided into radiative and non-radiative processes). The Fluorescence yield indicates the fraction of de-excitation processes involving the emission of fluorescence photons.
25 Fluorescence yield references 25 / 38
26 The x-ray data booklet 26 / 38
27 X-ray Fluorescence: quantitative analysis An important feature of the XRF technique is that it is possible, under certain conditions, obtain quantitative information about the concentration of the chemical species present in a given sample (stoichiometry). Theoretical background and methods for performing a reliable quantitative analysis are discussed in various textbooks and specialized articles. Here we shall refer our discussion to the book Quantitative X-ray Spectrometry by Ron Jenkins, R. W. Gould, and Dale Gedcke (2nd edition, 1995). The theoretical framework is fully understood, but the technique is more easily applied to samples with specified thickness and morphology (grain size, texture, surface) and the use of standards of known concentration is often necessary for reliable determinations. The application is vast, from mineralogy to material science, from chemistry to metallurgy also using electron microscopy equipments. 27 / 38
31 XRF - Quant. anal.: excitation of specific (K) core levels 31 / 38
32 XRF - Quant. anal.: inclusion of specific contributions 32 / 38
33 33 / 38 XRF - Quant. anal.: monochromatic source The integral disappears if we can consider the source monochromatic (energy E 0 ) reducing considerably several problems in the data-analysis.
34 34 / 38 XRF - Quant. anal.: infinite thickness If the thickness of the sample can be considered infinite (with respect to the typical photon absorption lenghts, the inverse of the absorption coefficient) further simplifications are obtained. Typical absorption lengths in the x-ray range ( 10 kev) are of the order of 10 µm.
35 35 / 38 XRF - Quant. anal.: secondary absorption The actual intensity of the fluorescence lines depends also on the secondary self-absorption of the sample. So quantitative analysis must take account of both primary and secondary absorption terms, acting at different photon energies.
36 36 / 38 XRF: Quantitative analysis Quantitative XRF data-analysis is possible within the above-mentioned theoretical framework. Geometry of the experiment, source and detector features must be taken into account. Practical data-analysis is based on a peak-fitting technique, in which several fluorescence peaks are identified above a measured background. The intensity of each peak is given by the integrated number of counts related to each peak (after background subtraction). Concentration (Wi) of element i can be obtained by solving the corresponding set of equations for each observed fluorescence peak. Full statistical analysis can be done taking into account the experimental noise.
37 37 / 38 X-ray Fluorescence Typical shape of a XRF spectrum. Peaks indicate the presence of well-defined chemical species.
38 38 / 38 X-ray Fluorescence Typical analysis of XRF spectra: removal of background, peak-fitting parameters.
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