skip to content

Department of Earth Sciences

Photo of new lab instrument with computer screen

In September 2021 the Department took delivery of a new electron microprobe: a powerful, non-destructive technique that measures the chemical composition of wide-ranging solid materials. 

Microprobe analysis has been a central analytical tool in Earth Sciences for decades.  The upgraded electron source will allow for improved beam stability and higher currents, and thus access to higher precision analysis at lower concentrations as well as better spatial resolution.

The Jeol IHP200F instrument was funded by a grant from the University of Cambridge, and will bring together investigators from the Departments of Earth Sciences, Geography, Materials Science and Physics in search of questions at the forefront of their disciplines.

“We can now analyze materials down to the nanoscale, giving us opportunities to study smaller minerals, experimental textures and narrower diffusion properties,” said Dr Iris Buisman, who runs the Department’s microanalysis laboratory.

After almost six months of setup, the instrument is now ready for the first of many training sessions. One of the main advances are its improved software capabilities, allowing for more thorough interrogation of the raw data as well as enabling better quantification of maps.  

The state-of-the-art field emission electron source can analyze smaller areas (less than one micron), revealing features such as diffusion profiles at increased spatial resolution.  

Thanks to low voltage capabilities it is now also possible to characterize very thin samples. One example being ‘thin films’ — materials just a fraction of a nanometer in thickness which can be used in anything from creating advanced solar cells to lightweight components of spacecraft.

Buisman plans to spend the next few months testing the capabilities of the new instrument, “This is a really exciting time for us – we can really start to push its boundaries and develop new techniques for materials we’ve not previously worked on. We welcome collaborations and new ideas from across the University and beyond.”