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12.1.6: Uncertainties

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    Powder diffraction is not always an exact process, and several things may cause X-ray patterns to deviate from those in reference files. Proper sample preparation is crucial to obtaining accurate patterns. Complications arise when we do not grind a sample properly, or when powdered crystals are not in truly random orientations. For example, because micas are hard to grind and their tiny flakes may align parallel to each other, obtaining random orientation and a good X-ray pattern is difficult for micas. A second problem is that compositional variations can affect X-ray patterns (see Box 12-3 below). Despite these complications, the PDF data contains adequate reference patterns for most mineralogical uses.

    Compositional Control on Diffraction Patterns

    Powder patterns for quartz, fluorite, and other minerals with fixed compositions vary little from those in reference data bases. This is not the case for minerals that form solid solutions.

    For example, consider plagioclase. Figure 12.31 in this box shows X-ray patterns for albite and anorthite, the two main plagioclase end members. Unit cell parameters for each are also given. These two minerals have almost, but not quite, the same unit cell size and shape. They also have atoms in the same places within their unit cells. So the two patterns have peaks at about the same angles. (You may have to look closely to see this because albite and anorthite are triclinic which means the patterns are a bit chaotic.)

    Peak intensity, however, is significantly different for the two feldspars. This difference is because the minerals have different compositions. The same (hkl) planes cause diffraction, but because atoms on those planes are different elements, diffraction intensity by the planes is different. Plagioclase feldspars can have any composition between albite and anorthite and consequently may produce many different looking diffractograms.

    Figure 12.31: Comparing diffraction patterns for albite and anorthite

    This page titled 12.1.6: Uncertainties is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Dexter Perkins via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.