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Radiological Microscopy Suite Enables Innovative Nuclear Science

New instruments and laboratory spaces benefit a wide range of research

December 2018
Radiological Microscopy Suite Enables Innovative Nuclear Science

New nuclear science capabilities in the RPL’s Radiological Microscopy Suite will benefit research across a number of disciplines.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) has recently completed a multi-year, multi-million-dollar investment to establish a microscopy facility in the Radiochemical Processing Laboratory (RPL) that provides unprecedented new nuclear science research capabilities to analyze and characterize radiological materials.

“This investment will both advance nuclear science research and supporting programs, as well as strengthen the capabilities and viability of the RPL into the future,” says materials scientist Edgar Buck. “The new facility’s instruments will benefit research across a number of disciplines, and will be particularly useful for studies related to plutonium oxalate and oxide morphology, waste disposal, in situ corrosion of spent fuel, glass corrosion, and Hanford tank waste processing.”

Capabilities Magnify PNNL's Research

Scanning electron microscope in the RMS

Scanning transmission electron microscope in the RMS.

The facility, the Radiological Microscopy Suite (RMS), consists of four specially designed laboratory spaces that house advanced microscopes and a sample preparation lab with a radiological fume hood to work with radioactive materials. “This combination of tools allows us to examine the dynamic behavior of radiological materials from the micron to atomic scale with unprecedented structural and chemical resolution—all in one facility,” explains materials scientist Steven Spurgeon.

The specific instruments in the RMS are:

  • A world-class 300kV JEOL GrandARM-300F aberration-corrected scanning transmission electron microscope (STEM) for atomic-resolution imaging and mapping of composition and chemical bonding. The instrument features dual X-ray detectors, a high-speed Gatan Quantum EELS system, and a range of holders for tomography, in situ, and other experiments.
  • A FEI Helios 660 dual-beam focused ion beam (FIB) for site-specific preparation and imaging of cross-sectional samples, as well high-resolution X-ray mapping and micro-computed tomography.
  • A FEI Quanta 250 environmental scanning electron microscope (SEM) for the examination of specimens in operando conditions.
  • An Asylum Infinity atomic-force microscope (AFM) for high-resolution mapping of surface morphology and properties, such as hardness, magnetism, thermal conductivity, and electrical conductivity.

The RMS is a culmination of a five-year effort and investments from various sources, including projects, sponsors, and overhead. This capability supports the work of numerous agencies, including the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy, Office of Environmental Management, Office of Science, and National Nuclear Security Administration.

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