X-ray fluorescence (XRF) analysis is one of the most common non-destructive methods for qualitative as well as quantitative determination of elemental composition of materials. It is suitable for solids, liquids as well as powders. There are two main methodological techniques that are wavelength dispersive analysis (WD-XRF) and energy dispersive analysis (ED-XRF) (In the next post we will briefly discuss about WDXRF & EDXRF ,this post will only explain the basics of x-ray fluorescence which is required to understand the upcoming posts about WDXRF & EDXRF ). The spectra are collected simultaneously in a wide energy range. The range of detectable materials covers all elements from Sodium (Na) to Uranium (U) and the concentration can range from 100% down to ppm. Detection limit depends upon the specific element and the sample matrix but in general heavier elements have higher detection limit.
X-ray Fluorescence (XRF) Spectroscopy involves measuring the intensity of X-rays emitted from a specimen as a function of energy or wavelength. The energies of large intensity lines are characteristic of atoms of the specimen. The intensities of observed lines for a given atom vary as the amount of that atom present in the specimen. Qualitative analysis involves identifying atoms present in a specimen by associating observed characteristic lines with their atoms. Quantitative analysis involves determining the amount of each atom present in the specimen from the intensity of measured characteristic X-ray lines. The emission of characteristic atomic X-ray photons occurs when a vacancy in an inner electron state is formed, and an outer orbit electron makes a transition to that vacant state.
The energy of the emitted photon is equal to the difference in electron energy levels of the transition. As the electron energy levels are characteristic of the atom, the energy of the emitted photon is characteristic of the atom. Molecular bonds generally occur between outer electrons of a molecule leaving inner electron states unperturbed. As X-ray fluorescence involves transitions to inner electron states, the energy of characteristic X-ray radiation is usually unaffected by molecular chemistry. This makes XRF a powerful tool of chemical analysis in all kinds of materials. In a liquid, fluoresced X-rays are usually little affected by other atoms in the liquid and line intensities are usually directly proportional to the amount of that atom present in the liquid. In a solid, atoms of the specimen both absorb and enhance characteristic X-ray radiation. These interactions are termed ‘matrix effects’ and much of quantitative analysis with XRF spectroscopy is concerned with correcting for these effects.
X rays are electromagnetic radiation. All X-rays represent a very energetic portion of
the electromagnetic spectrum (Table 1) and have short wavelengths of about 0.1 to 100 angstroms (Å). They are bounded by ultraviolet light at long wavelengths and gamma rays at short wavelengths X-rays in the range from 50 to 100 Å are termed soft X-rays because they have lower energies and are easily absorbed.The range of interest for X-ray is approximately from 0.1 to 100 Å.