Surface Science Laboratories

Examination of the outer few atomic layers at surfaces and interfaces can provide considerable insight into the performance of materials used in the nuclear industry.

CNL’s expertise in the surface science disciplines - metallurgy, chemistry, physics, and microscopy - combines the in-depth knowledge of our experienced staff with our extensive laboratory resources to solve a wide range of industrial materials challenges.

CNL’s surface analysis instrumentation includes:

  • Scanning Electron Microscopes
  • Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometer
  • Imaging X-ray Photoelectron Spectrometer
  • Scanning Auger Microprobe

These instruments have been modified for the safe handling and analysis of highly radioactive samples and are located within the same building that houses Chalk River Laboratories’ Fuel & Materials Hot Cell Facility. Complementary services in the hot cell facility include a shielded Scanning Electron Microprobe, a metallographic lab and an active materials machine shop. Radioactive samples can be accommodated through all phases of preparation and analysis within these facilities, and can be dissected, tested and analyzed with specialized equipment.

Experts at CRL combine the use of state-of-the-art technology with a thoughtful, integrated approach to problem solving. Their experience ranges from fundamental research on metals to commercial contracts for failure analysis. Materials experience includes metal alloy reactor components, metal-oxide corrosion products, ceramic oxide fuel materials, and polymers and coatings used elsewhere in nuclear power plants.

Key areas of expertise include: material identification, characterization and qualification; mechanical failure analysis; corrosion analysis; non-destructive testing and analysis; sample preparation for metallographic and surface analysis; metallographic examination; characterization of radioactive specimens; and process qualifications including decontamination and cleaning.

State-of-the-art techniques and equipment: Scanning the surface with electrons, x-rays and ions

One of the key pieces of equipment available in the Surface Science Laboratories is the Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM). The SEM at Chalk River Laboratories is a state-of-the-art instrument that produces high spatial resolution images of a sample surface with exceptional depth of field. The SEM is a powerful tool for materials science and failure analysis, as it is equipped with both Energy Dispersive and Wavelength Dispersive X-ray spectrometers for determination of chemical composition, and Electron Backscatter Diffraction capabilities for grain orientation mapping.

Other equipment present in the Surface Science Laboratories includes a Scanning Auger Microprobe (SAM), which is used for spatially-resolved microanalysis in the upper few atomic layers of materials. In addition, there is also the Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometer (SIMS), which can detect all elements. This instrument provides spatially resolved compositional depth profiling with excellent depth resolution, micron-scale ion imaging and isotopic analysis with parts per million sensitivity. Imaging X-Ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy (XPS) is also available and allows chemical state characterization, including mapping of a surface. Combined together, these instruments form Canada’s only suite of complementary surface analytical instrumentation specifically tailored for analysis of highly radioactive material.