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What is Electron Spectroscopy?




Electron Spectroscopy for chemical analysis, or the ESCA system for short, is a science all to itself and branches from quantum mechanics. It is not a new science by any means, and has roots dating back to 1905 when Albert Einstein won the Nobel Prize in Physics for his interpretation, using quantum mechanics, of the photoelectric effect. This research facilitated the discovery of Heinrich Hertz and Max Planch that light indeed travels in an electromagnetic wavelength, as well of the discover of discrete energy portions. Nowadays, these discrete energy portions are named “quantum”, and all aspects of quantum physics is said to come from this truly ground breaking and pioneering research.

You might wonder just how quantum physics factors into chemical analysis, and the answer is that it affects chemical analysis just as much as it affects all of the sciences – quite a lot. This discovery assisted the progression of practically all of the sciences, and for chemical analysis in particular, it has led to a breakthrough in non-destructive chemical analysis, and the utilisation of machines such as the EnviroESCA which improve upon the process.

Kai Seigbahn could easily be considered a pioneer of this, from an experiment in an unrelated process resulting in the first realisation of analysis being performed without destroying the sample’s viability in solids. Seigbahn performed excitation on the electrons of solid objects with the aid of X-Rays. He utilised this to accurately detect the number of electrons in despondence to the kinetic energies in order to then ascertain the chemical composition of surface samples without destroying them. This is the first fundamentals of the science known as Electron Spectroscopy for Chemical Analysis, or ESCA.

Other methods, such as XPS (X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy) are by-products of the refinement of Electron Spectroscopy, and have turned into viable methods of collecting and quantifying data for a number of different processes, not just ESCA data. A large breakthrough was Seigfried’s application of ESCA to liquids, with further refinement to 1 mbar of pressure in synchrotron experiments.

Nowadays, systems such as the SPECs EnviroESCA can analyse and not destroy liquids, gaseous and liquid environments, and has application in astrochemistry, astrobiology, food science, archaeology, pharmaceutical research, cosmetic research, soils and minerals, fabrics, medical and biomaterial research, and so much more.     

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