Advanced Materials


X-ray Scattering Illuminates Materials Microstructure

Scientific and technological breakthroughs in designing new advanced materials depend critically on understanding microstructure and dynamics, that is, understanding how atoms are arranged and how they are moving. This knowledge is essential for transformative improvements in synthesis and processing techniques in energy, environmental and manufacturing sectors.

ORNL continues to develop a powerful toolkit of innovative instruments and techniques to provide insight into how static and dynamic microstructure control physical properties. In particular, x-ray diffraction plays a central role in revealing the local microstructure and lattice dynamics inside a broad range of scientifically and technologically important materials. X-ray scattering research is highly synergistic with neutron scattering and provides data essential for testing predictions from large-scale theoretical efforts to design enhanced materials.

X-rays possess unique properties that make them an ideal, nondestructive probe of atomic microstructure, enabling scientists at ORNL to research materials ranging from complex correlated-oxides with new electronic, thermoelectric and ferroelectric properties to fundamental studies of mechanical strength in structural materials. Most importantly, x-ray wavelengths are in the same range as atomic distances (~0.1 nm), and can penetrate through air, water or other in-situ environments.

Moreover, the development of increasingly powerful synchrotron sources has driven an ongoing revolution in expanded x-ray capabilities. ORNL has pioneered the development of spatially-resolved x-ray diffraction providing three-dimensional mapping with submicron resolution, as well as time-resolved diffraction to reveal ultrafast structural changes. New synchrotron sources are currently being commissioned and constructed; thus, exciting developments in x‑ray scattering will continue.

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