X-rays are used in many ways to image and analyze objects. A very important property of X-rays is their ability to penetrate matter, a fact that allows X-rays to be used to analyze also the interior of objects.
Compared to visible light, the much shorter wavelength of X-rays fundamentally allows imaging and analysis at a much better resolution, even down to the atomic length scale.
Read about some X-ray techniques, and learn about their potentials and the requirements on the equipment.
Imaging is the first historic application using X-rays, as demonstrated already by W. C. Röntgen, and remains the most common application especially due to its wide use for medical imaging.
Attenuation-contrast imaging is the conventional way of obtaining X-ray images. Materials with higher density or higher atomic number attenuate more X-rays, and therefore give less transmission.
Phase-contrast imaging requires special techniques to be detected but can be very beneficial. For materials that have low absorption the phase can give more than 1000 times stronger contrast than absorption.
The well-established way to obtain the ultimate resolution is to use X-ray optics. This imaging technique is since many years performed at synchrotrons, but in recent decades the optics-based X-ray microscope based on laboratory sources are commercially available.
Methods based on scattering and diffraction utilize that radiation can “change direction” when interacting with an object. This typically provides information on length scales smaller than what can be directly imaged.
Protein crystallographers rely on the brightest X-ray sources to combat the issues of air sensitivity, small crystals, low diffraction and densely packed reflections.
Small molecule crystallography uses X-ray diffraction in the determination and study of the three dimensional structure of a material at the atomic and molecular scale.
Powder XRD is mainly used for structural analysis of microcrystalline solid materials or powder samples. The main benefits of powder diffraction is that sample preparation is often very easy and straightforward.
Small Angle X-ray Scattering is used to study the structure of materials in the 1 nm to ~200 nm range. The materials typically studied include polymers, metals, colloids, liquid crystals and biological samples e.g. proteins.
Spectroscopic X-ray methods are based on detecting X-ray energy spectra. The spectra can be used to identify elements since every element has its unique absorption edges and fluorescence lines or even electronic structure of matter by analyzing the exact shape of emission or absorption lines.
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