The structure and behavior of leaves means that they look subtly different minute by minute. Some birds and Insects (such as Butterflies) are well known for having ‘photonic’ structures in their wings, giving rise to spectacular luminescence effects.
There’s much excitement at Malvern Panalytical right now as we prepare to launch our new detector. ‘What’s so wonderful about that?’, you may ask.
Well, to understand detectors, you first need to appreciate the scientific value of the X-ray. The use of X-rays in materials analysis has advanced our understanding of the world in unprecedented ways over the years – from helping to refine elements from ores and synthesize new materials to unpicking the structure of DNA.
Detectors play a central role in any X-ray experiment. They help us to separate the different components of absorption, reflection, scattering, diffraction and fluorescence. By identifying and measuring each of these processes separately, it becomes possible to measure the physical, structural and chemical properties of materials in fine detail.
In the eye of the beholder
Eyes are an excellent metaphor for detectors. In fact, images of eyes, or sometimes birds of prey, are often used to advertise these devices. Thinking about eyesight can be a useful way to explain the role of a detector in a scientific instrument.
The retinas in our eyes are visible light detectors. You can see the object you’re looking at because the ambient light illuminating it has interacted with it, and the resulting light is now hitting your eyes. In the meantime, the light you see from an object may have undergone absorption, reflection, scattering, diffraction and fluorescence. And those are just a few of the many optical processes potentially taking place.
These different effects explain why an object often appears different to us in changing light. Something looks dull one minute and shiny the next; pale blue turns to grey in the blink of an eye; something that was in sharp focus suddenly becomes hazy.
What you actually see all depends on how the object is illuminated, the angle you’re viewing it from and what lies between you and the item. Moreover, it depends on the mechanics of the eye itself. From the fluid tear film on the surface through to all the little devices: the lens, iris, vitreous humour; the retina with its rods and cones, and the receptors.
Each element helps shape the messages relayed to our brain and, finally, how these are interpreted by our analytical mind. As the viewer, you don’t necessarily know which parts of the image are composed of absorption, reflection, scattering, diffraction and fluorescence, but you have your own way of understanding what you see.
Small advancements, big impact
Just as our eyes and brain adjust for different conditions, the detectors we use impact how we differentiate the aspects of X-ray data emerging from an experiment. And as with the eye, the quality of each component makes a difference. Small technical improvements bring new benefits, so that absorption, reflection, scattering, diffraction or fluorescence can be better separated and understood.
At Malvern Panalytical, we design and make detectors. We incorporate the latest advancements in detector technology to enable better experiments, and with these, more accurate and comprehensive X-ray data.
A detector may have greater sensitivity, or it may work faster and more efficiently. It may be able to detect weaker signals or separate similar signals with a better resolution. Whatever the advancement, somewhere out there, a scientist is using his or her new detector to unlock all-important insights into their material.
Want to know what’s wonderful about our new detector? On Thursday 27th August, Malvern Panalytical is hosting 2 live launches. Please register to attend one of our digital launch events, via the links below: