Tables for
Volume H
Powder diffraction
Edited by C. J. Gilmore, J. A. Kaduk and H. Schenk

International Tables for Crystallography (2018). Vol. H, ch. 2.1, pp. 27-28

Section Diffractometers

A. Kerna*

aBruker AXS, Östliche Rheinbrückenstrasse 49, Karlsruhe 76187, Germany
Correspondence e-mail: Diffractometers

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Photographic films have two important weaknesses: the detection efficiency is low and quantification of the diffracted intensities, including the line-profile shapes, is indirect and cumbersome. These shortcomings led to the idea of replacing the film with a photon counter (most commonly utilizing the Geiger–Müller counter at that time) and thus to the development of a device called a `diffractometer'. The design resembled that of the Bragg ionization spectrometer, but dispersed monochromatic radiation from lattice planes rather than a spectrum of X-ray wavelengths. The first diffractometer developed by Le Galley (1935[link]) was a non-focusing arrangement using a point-focus X-ray tube, making use of the cylindrical geometry of a normal film camera. In subsequent instrument designs focusing geometries were adopted, mostly the `Bragg–Brentano geometry' (Brentano, 1924[link]), a modification of the Seemann–Bohlin geometry, first introduced by Lindemann & Trost (1940[link]) and Friedmann (1945[link]).

The introduction of the first commercial focusing diffractometer in the early 1950s resulted in another major advance of the polycrystalline diffraction method, and may be largely credited to Parrish and co-workers (e.g. Parrish, 1949[link]). This instrument consisted of a fixed-anode X-ray tube and a mechanical goniometer, operating in Bragg–Brentano geometry. The initial replacement of photographic film by the Geiger–Müller counter, and soon after by scintillation and lithium-drifted silicon detectors, allowed accurate intensities and line-profile shapes with high resolution to be recorded. The large space around the specimen permitted the design of various interchangeable stages for specimen rotation and translation, automatic specimen changing and non-ambient analyses. As a consequence, powder diffraction found many new applications beyond phase identification, including, but not limited to, quantitative analysis of crystalline and amorphous phases, microstructure analysis, and texture and strain analysis, at ambient and non-ambient conditions.

In the following decades, diffractometers were fully automated, fully digitized, and electronically and mechanically stabilized. The data quality they delivered became generally superior to that of film cameras, including in terms of resolution, eventually even facilitating structure determination and refinement from powders. Attempts to improve Guinier or Seemann–Bohlin cameras by replacing the film with image plates or any other stationary or scanning detectors did not produce competitive instrumentation in terms of instrument flexibility and mechanical simplicity. As a result, film cameras were steadily replaced by automated diffractometers using the Bragg–Brentano geometry. Since the 1990s, classic film cameras as well as other Guinier- or Seemann–Bohlin-based instruments are no longer used in practical polycrystalline diffraction analysis and thus lost any commercial relevance, apart from for a few niche applications. The Bragg–Brentano geometry, as developed in the 1940s, became the dominating instrument geometry and accounted for more than 90% of all instruments sold. The remainder almost exclusively used Debye–Scherrer-type arrangements, either employing focusing incident-beam monochromators for flat-plate or capillary transmission setups, or parallel-beam setups based on (pinhole) slits and/or Soller collimators and/or channel-cut monochromators for microdiffraction, small-angle X-ray scattering and the characterization of thin films.

While powder diffractometers have changed little in their construction and geometry since the 1940s, considerable advances have made in X-ray detection and X-ray beam conditioning (X-ray optics).

Significant detector developments include one- and two-dimensional position-sensitive detectors (PSDs) based on gas proportional counter technology, and especially that of the scanning one-dimensional PSD (Göbel, 1980[link]). The replacement of a point detector by a scanning one-dimensional PSD allowed the measurement time required to record a full pattern to be reduced down to minutes without significant compromise on resolution. This enabled time-critical applications (such as non-ambient and high-throughput analyses), or compensation of the intensity loss when employing incident-beam monochromators.

The introduction of laterally graded multilayers on figured reflectors, so-called `Göbel mirrors' (Schuster & Göbel, 1996[link]), allowed the conversion of a convergent beam into a parallel beam, and thus added a new dimension to laboratory beam conditioning – at a time when X-ray techniques were expanding into the now very rapidly growing area of thin-film characterization, sparking a renaissance of the Debye–Scherrer geometry.

Until the late 1980s and early 1990s, traditional powder diffraction and thin-film characterization were seen as two different techniques with diverse requirements. As a consequence, thin-film techniques formed a different X-ray diffraction application sector, served by different and specialized instrumentation, in addition to the already existing distinction between single-crystal and powder diffraction applications and instrumentation. The X-ray powder diffraction market was characterized by dedicated (and separately marketed) instruments for traditional powder diffraction, usually based on the Bragg–Brentano geometry, and for thin-film analysis, usually based on the Debye–Scherrer geometry.


Brentano, J. C. M. (1924). Focussing method of crystal powder analysis by X-rays. Proc. Phys. Soc. 37, 184–193.Google Scholar
Friedmann, H. (1945). Geiger counter spectrometer for industrial research. Electronics, 18, 132–137.Google Scholar
Göbel, H. E. (1980). The use and accuracy of continuously scanning position-sensitive detector data in X-ray powder diffraction. Adv. X-ray Anal. 24, 123–138.Google Scholar
Le Galley, D. P. (1935). A type of Geiger–Müller counter suitable for the measurement of diffracted X-rays. Rev. Sci. Instrum. 6, 279–283.Google Scholar
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Parrish, W. (1949). X-ray powder diffraction analysis: film and Geiger counter techniques. Science, 110, 368–371.Google Scholar
Schuster, M. & Göbel, H. (1996). Application of graded multilayer optics in X-ray diffraction. Adv. X-ray Anal. 39, 57–72.Google Scholar

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