, Volume 400, Issue 6, pp 1637-1644
Date: 11 Mar 2011

Trends in hard X-ray fluorescence mapping: environmental applications in the age of fast detectors

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Environmental samples are extremely diverse but share a tendency for heterogeneity and complexity. This heterogeneity poses methodological challenges when investigating biogeochemical processes. In recent years, the development of analytical tools capable of probing element distribution and speciation at the microscale have allowed this challenge to be addressed. Of these available tools, laterally resolved synchrotron techniques such as X-ray fluorescence mapping are key methods for the in situ investigation of micronutrients and inorganic contaminants in environmental samples. This article demonstrates how recent advances in X-ray fluorescence detector technology are bringing new possibilities to environmental research. Fast detectors are helping to circumvent major issues such as X-ray beam damage of hydrated samples, as dwell times during scanning are reduced. They are also helping to reduce temporal beamtime requirements, making particularly time-consuming techniques such as micro X-ray fluorescence (μXRF) tomography increasingly feasible. This article focuses on μXRF mapping of nutrients and metalloids in environmental samples, and suggests that the current divide between mapping and speciation techniques will be increasingly blurred by the development of combined approaches.


Tricolour maps of elemental distributions in a barley grain: Zn (red), Compton (green) and Mn (blue)