COSAM News Articles 2021 February New X-ray diffraction instrumentation sets Auburn University apart in Alabama

New X-ray diffraction instrumentation sets Auburn University apart in Alabama

Published: 02/23/2021

By: Maria Gebhardt

Ryan Comes, Thomas and Jean Walter assistant professor in the Department of Physics, and Byron Farnum, assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, have worked together for three years on research for next-generation materials for electronic and energy applications at Auburn University, and now, they are bringing the best world-class X-ray diffraction instrumentation to the state of Alabama.

A $280,487 grant with cost-sharing of $120,000 has enabled Auburn to add a Rigaku SmartLab® X-Ray Diffraction (XRD) instrument for core research through the Major Research Instrumentation program from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The real-world impact of this instrumentation has direct applications to electronic materials and renewable energy, including batteries and fuel cells. The equipment—located in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry building—can scatter X-rays off atoms in a crystal, providing detailed measurements of atomic structure with impressive rapid data acquisition. 

“No other instrument in the entire state of Alabama has such finely tuned resolution designed for materials research,” said Farnum. That capability means that researchers can precisely measure the properties of ultrathin materials less than 100 atoms thick that Farnum and Comes study in their research.

The new instrumentation allows all X-ray scattering experiments, including powder diffraction, thin films metrology, small-angle X-ray scattering, in-plane scattering and microdiffraction.

The state-of-the-art machine uses a three-kilowatt anode X-ray generator, which is optimal for advanced thin film measurements. The SmartLab Guidance software aids the user in both alignments and setup, and the high-temperature measurements with a heated stage can exceed 1,000 degrees Celsius. The system is also equipped with a unique battery cell attachment to study how materials used for energy storage transform when they charge and discharge.

“It is critical for COSAM to make these kinds of investments that provide state-of-the-art instrumentation to enhance the research capabilities of our faculty and students,” shared Edward Thomas Jr., professor and associate dean for research and graduate studies. “We are very proud of the hard work that our faculty did to bring this new X-ray diffraction instrumentation to Auburn University.”

This interdisciplinary partnership includes Auburn’s Samuel Ginn College of Engineering with Masoud Mahjouri-Samani and Peng Li from Electrical and Computer Engineering; Tae-Sik Oh from Chemical Engineering; and Majid Beidaghi from Materials Engineering. Along with Prof. Farnum, Oh and Beidaghi are part of the Auburn energy research cluster, while Comes, Li, and Mahjouri-Samani are part of the university’s emerging quantum research initiative.

The award includes a broader impact with other institutions throughout the state benefitting from using this equipment. It will be available for academic and industrial use by outside researchers by contacting either Comes or Farnum. Summer undergraduate researchers in the NSF-funded Collaborative Approaches among Scientists and Engineers program will also perform research projects on the system each year.

“Auburn University is emerging in the thin-films materials research realm,” explained Comes. “This instrumentation will help COSAM and Auburn University make a tremendous impact through next-generation materials while training future scientists and engineers in this interdisciplinary research field.”

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