Surface analyses with x-ray and neutrons

Mathias  Huss-Hansen

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Surface analyses with x-ray and neutrons

Structures and coatings on surfaces can determine properties such as hydrophobicity, adsorption, corrosion resistance, and electrical properties.

Surface analyses with x-ray and neutrons can give access to unique understanding that can help to optimize properties for specific applications, such as water-repellant surfaces, surfaces inhibiting bacterial growth, or electrically conducting surfaces.

Chemical composition

The chemical composition of a surface can be determined with x-ray spectroscopy. By scanning a focused x-ray beam over a surface, it is possible to map the distribution of the components with a resolution down to less than 100 nanometers.

  • Elemental composition and information on oxidation number and coordination to neighbor atoms can be investigated with the technique NEXAFS/XANES.
  • Chemical bonds and atomic distances can be analyzed with the technique EXAFS. Chemical bonds in a material can also be investigated with techniques such as Raman and IR spectroscopy.
  • Mapping of specific elements can be done using X-ray fluorescence (XRF) mapping with high spatial resolution.


Surfaces can exhibit a range of nanostructures, such as thin film layers, nanoparticles, fibres, or pores. x-ray and neutron analyses of these typically cover several square centimeters and give information on the average structure within this area, as opposed to the techniques AFM and SEM, where a smaller section of the sample is scanned.

  • Structure, fine layers, and roughness of layers on a flat substrate or at an interface inside a material can be determined with sub-nanometer precision using reflectometry.
  • Order and distance between particles in surfaces can be determined with grazing incidence scattering (GI-SAXS or GI-SANS).
  • The structure of organic and inorganic thin films can be determined in layers with thicknesses of only a few nanometres.

Structure of surface films or membranes with thicknesses above a few micrometers can be investigated using the same principles as for other solid materials.

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