Material characterization allows researchers to identify the structure of a material, how this structure refers to its macroscopic properties, and how it will act in certain technological applications.
Definitions of what constitutes “material characterization” can vary. While there are those that use the term to refer to any process in which materials are analyzed, including bulk thermal analysis and density testing, this article outlines the material characterization techniques applied in the study of the microscopic properties of materials.
The majority of these material characterization techniques can be classified into two main categories: microscopy or spectroscopy.
Microscopy, which refers to the application of microscopes to study various materials and surfaces, is one of the principal methods of material characterization and scientific research by and large. Microscopes employ a wide range of different methods to generate magnified images of materials and surfaces.
The optical microscope is one of the world’s most recognizable pieces of scientific equipment and can be found almost everywhere, from high-school science classrooms to advanced research laboratories.
Optical microscopes utilize an assembly of lenses and mirrors to generate a magnified image using visible light. While extremely useful for a wide range of applications, light microscopes are ultimately limited by the relationship between the wavelength and energy of photons, making the maximum possible magnifying power at around 1,000x.
A number of variations on optical microscopy exist, including many that use fluorescence to enhance imaging power (e.g., fluorescence, confocal and two-photon microscopy).
There are numerous types of electron microscopy, in particular, scanning electron microscopy (SEM), transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and scanning tunneling microscopy (STM). Each of these methods relies upon beams of electrons instead of beams of light to conduct material characterization.
Electron microscopes are among the leading microscopes in the world, with the capacity to image at up to 50,000,000x magnification, making them the most powerful.
Other Microscopy Techniques
Many alternative types of microscopy can be applied for material characterization; these include:
- Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM)
- Ultraviolet (UV) Microscopy
- X-Ray Microscopy
Spectroscopic techniques are wide-ranging and varied, but all necessitate measuring the response of a material to various frequencies of electromagnetic radiation.
Depending on the chosen technique, material characterization can be determined by the measurement of absorption, emission, impedance or reflection of incident energy by a sample.
Spectroscopy is an extensive field, and a large number of different techniques exist. Some of the most commonly used include infrared (IR) spectroscopy, nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR), Raman spectroscopy, and X-Ray spectroscopy,
Other Material Characterization Techniques
There are a number of other techniques used for material characterization that fall outside the categories of microscopy and spectroscopy. Some of the most popular examples are:
- Diffraction techniques, which include X-Ray diffraction, are generally used to identify crystal structure.
- Electrical and magnetic techniques, such as impedance spectroscopy.
- Nanoindentation, whereby material characterization can be performed based on the nanoscale response of a material to a tiny, precise mechanical probe known as a nanoindenter.
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This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by Platypus Technologies, LLC.
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