X-ray for meteorites

To most people the word 'x-ray' connotes doctor's visits and broken bones. A slightly less obvious use for x-rays is to have them analyse the contents and structure of different materials.

To most people the word 'x-ray' connotes doctor's visits and broken bones. A slightly less obvious use for x-rays is to have them analyse the contents and structure of different materials.

Scientists from the University of Helsinki and the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble have developed a new synchrotron x-ray technique, which allows researchers to analyse chemical bonds embedded deep in opaque materials; an achievement previously thought to be impossible without destroying the sample.

The scientists use bright x-rays from a synchrotron light source to form images of the chemical bond distribution of different carbon forms, which makes it possible for scientists to analyse, for example, fossils buried deep inside a lava rock or minerals and chemical compounds within meteorites. The new technique not only tells which elements are present in any inclusions, but also in which kind of molecule or crystal they belong to.

– Now I would love to get a hold on moon rocks for example. If the inclusion contains oxygen, we can tell whether the oxygen belongs to a water molecule. If it contains carbon, we can tell whether it is graphite, diamond-like, or some other carbon form, says Simo Huotari from the University of Helsinki.

– Just imagine if one would find tiny inclusions of water or diamond inside martian rock samples, hidden deep inside the rock!

This technique won't be used on humans in quite some time, however. The newly developed method requires high doses of radiation, so using it on biological tissue isn't really possible at this stage. Instead it will give insights into the molecular structure of other interesting materials, ranging from nanomaterials to fuel cells and new types of batteries.

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Text: Jockum Hildén
Photo: 123rf
22.6.2011
University of Helsinki, digital communications


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