Electron energy loss spectroscopy (EELS) has been widely used in analysis of ceramic, minerals and semiconductors. It can provide the unique advantage of sensitivity to composition, coordination and valency, while providing nano-scale spatial resolution. Due to the electron irradiation sensitivity, EELS studies on glass are quite rare. However, using special care in glass-composition selection and by recording time series of EELS-spectra to monitor any structural changes, EELS then becomes a very useful technique to study glass-chemistry and glass structure with the highest spatial resolution of all chemically sensitive techniques. Alkali borosilicate glasses (ABS) doped with Cr2O3 (2 mol%), CeO2 (4 mol%) and ZrO4 (4 mol%) were melted, cooled and annealed in the context of simulating radionuclide immobilisation glasses. Precipitates with diameter in the range of ∼20 nm to ∼200 nm were found homogeneously distributed in the glass. In preliminary studies we measured the oxidation state in the glass and in precipitates via evaluation of the Ce-M-edge double white line ratio, confirming the crystals as Ce(IV) oxide. We also found Boron K-edge ELNES spectra as a sensitive signal to boron coordination (N4 = BO4/(BO3+BO4)), which is found at N4 ratios of around 35-45%.
In the present study we have extended this work to the acquisition of dense line scans (spectrum imaging) across an area of interest on our composite glass with emphasis on three questions:
(i) Change of cerium valence upon transition from the glass to the precipitates?
(ii) Possible oscillation of boron N4-ratio in the glass within a line scan as a consequence of random medium-order related glass fluctations when scanning the <5nm probe across a seemingly homogeneous area?
(iii) N4-changes in the immediate glass layer surrounding the precipitates?
Our ongoing research has produced results which prove a systematic change of the Ce oxidation state from precipitates (+IV) to glass (mixed +III/+IV). It is found that boron coordination is constant within the sensitivity given by signal-to-noise in the glass matrix. A change of the Boron K-edge fine structure upon crossing a nanoparticle during one particular linescan has been observed, which could hint to a coordination change of the glass layer surrounding the particle. Other linescan measurements have not shown any change and acquisition of an enlarged better statistic is work in progress.
The ABS-glass with distributed nanoparticles provides an ideal example of a 3D nanocomposite. The only proven technique for the three-dimensional reconstruction of such materials on the nanoscale is electron tomography. We present the first results of a 3D reconstructed nuclear waste glass by using a tilt series of ADF STEM images covering a glass fragment of 2000nm field of view containing several tens of nanoparticles distributed around its volume.