Professor Hitoshi Abe, from the Department of Materials Structure Science at the Japanese Graduate University for Advanced Studies and the High Energy Accelerator Research Organization. One of the key components to developing new infrastructures is the use of observational technology that can facilitate a deeper look into a material’s surface. By applying TREXS, Abe’s team has been able to surpass other surface observation technologies, including the scanning tunnelling microscope (STM), x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) and the scanning electron microscopy (SEM). STM, XPS and SEM are far less sensitive than TREXS. Abe elaborates, ‘Traditional surface science methods usually probe a few atomic layers, an insufficient depth to study real corrosion processes. They also require high vacuums and generally struggle to perform in conditions with gas flows of under 1 atm.’ These conditions are requirements for the transmission of electrons or ion beams but are not representative of the real atmosphere in which infrastructure materials are used. TREXS, on the other hand, ‘will provide surface sensitivity of about 2 nm and is performed under ambient pressure, temperature-controlled and at any gas mixture condition,’ Abe explains. This flexibility will be far more useful in developing more robust materials that will maintain their strength in a diverse range of environments. Developing this new methodology has also come with its fair share of complications. A drawback of TREXS is that it requires relatively-large uniform material samples of, typically, 5 cm x 10 cm. Additionally, the x-ray beams can be very difficult to record, and reflection measurements must be considered. One way to potentially solve this problem would be to use a micro-beam that is more direct and has a smaller x-ray footprint. However, even with these setbacks, Abe and his team are continuing to push forward and are hoping to fully perfect TREXS before marketing this technology to other laboratories.