Energy-Dispersive X-Ray Spectroscopy

Energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDS or EDX) is an analytical technique used for the elemental analysis or chemical characterization of a sample. It relies on the investigation of an interaction of some source of X-ray excitation and a sample. Its characterization capabilities are due in large part to the fundamental principle that each element has a unique atomic structure allowing unique set of peaks on its X-ray spectrum. To stimulate the emission of characteristic X-rays from a specimen, a high-energy beam of charged particles such as electrons or protons or a beam of X-rays, is focused into the sample being studied. At rest, an atom within the sample contains ground state (or unexcited) electrons in discrete energy levels or electron shells bound to the nucleus. The incident beam may excite an electron in an inner shell, ejecting it from the shell while creating an electron hole where the electron was. An electron from an outer, higher-energy shell then fills the hole, and the difference in energy between the higher-energy shell and the lower energy shell may be released in the form of an X-ray. The number and energy of the X-rays emitted from a specimen can be measured by an energy-dispersive spectrometer. As the energy of the X-rays are characteristic of the difference in energy between the two shells, and of the atomic structure of the element from which they were emitted, this allows the elemental composition of the specimen to be measured. While other X-Ray systems can determine the material, the EDX will perform a visual example. By analyzing and colorizing what is in view, the technician can obtain a photograph of the actual composition. This is important when identifying suspect components as many of the materials in blacktopping are of a different material composition on the surface versus the underlying layers below.