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Atomic diffusion studied with coherent X-rays


Knowledge of atomic diffusion is a fundamental issue in synthesis and stability of materials. Direct studies of the elementary diffusion event, that is, how the individual atoms ‘jump’, are scarce, as the available techniques are limited to selected systems1. Here we show how by monitoring the spatial and temporal variations of the scattered coherent X-ray intensity the diffusion of single atoms can be studied. This is demonstrated for the intermetallic alloy Cu90Au10. By measuring along several directions in reciprocal space, we can elucidate the dynamical behaviour of single atoms as a function of their neighbourhood. This method, usually referred to as X-ray photon correlation spectroscopy2,3,4,5 (XPCS), does not rely on specific atomic species or isotopes and can thus be applied to almost any system. Thus, given the advent of the next-generation X-ray sources, XPCS has the potential to become the main method for quantitatively understanding diffusion on the atomic scale.

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Figure 1: Variation of temporal intensity autocorrelations with position in reciprocal space.
Figure 2: Influence of temperature on dynamics.
Figure 3: Visualization of equation (4) for nearest-neighbour exchanges in the plane in reciprocal space.
Figure 4: Experimental correlation times together with fits for three one-dimensional scans through reciprocal space.


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This work was supported by grants of the Austrian Fonds zur Förderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung contract P-17775. We want to thank B. Schönfeld for providing the sample, O. Leupold and G. Grübel for providing the CCD detector, and A. Fluerasu and A. Madsen of the ESRF for assisting with the experiment. M.L. acknowledges the support by the IC ‘Experimental Materials Science—Nanostructured Materials’, a college for PhD students at the University of Vienna.

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G.V. and B.S. conceived the idea of the experiment, M.L. realized it. B.S. constructed the experimental apparatus. All authors were present at the experiment. M.L. analysed the data and wrote the paper. All authors discussed the results and implications and provided input to the manuscript at all stages.

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Correspondence to Michael Leitner.

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Leitner, M., Sepiol, B., Stadler, LM. et al. Atomic diffusion studied with coherent X-rays. Nature Mater 8, 717–720 (2009).

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