A valuable and costly new addition to ETE’s analytical laboratory is the X-ray diffractometer (XRD). The XRD was purchased by the Shared Research Facilities Group, initiated by Environmental Technology (ETE), Biobased Chemistry and Technology (BCT) and Biobased Products (BBP).
Many materials form crystals, for example salts, minerals, metals, but also biological substances like proteins, nucleic acids and lipids. Therefore, X-ray diffraction is an important tool for many scientific fields. The precision machine can be used to determine the structure of a crystal by using X-rays. ‘The machine sends a beam of X-rays under a continuously changing angle to a sample’, technician Ilse Gerrits explains. ‘The beam is subsequently reflected from the sample’s surface in different directions’. All these reflected beams are detected by the machine and translated into a peak diffraction pattern. Since this pattern is unique for each crystalline substance, it can thus be used for identification. For example, ETE’s research on sulphur formation from hydrogen sulphide in natural gas uses the XRD to confirm the composition of the produced sulphur particles (fig.1). But the machine may also reveal the atomic structure of new materials, follow the exact process of crystal formation over time and at different temperatures.
The XRD has applications for many research fields. Not only ETE, BCT and BBP are using the new machine. ‘Also other departments and interested companies may rent the machine to carry out their analyses’, Gerrits says.