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X-ray absorption

X-rays interact with matter in several ways:

photoelectric absorption,
inelastic scattering,
elastic scattering,
electron-positron pair production in the field of the nucleus (html)
General features of the interaction processes include
Stochastic in nature
Probabilities are described by interaction cross sections [cm
Cross sections of different processes are summarized to get the total cross section.
The total atomic cross section
The scattering cross sections depict the probability of the scattering event per atom.
The total atomic cross section can be written as a sum over the cross sections of the most probable individual processes by which
photons interact with atoms
where the cross sections are due to photoelectric absorption, inelastic scattering, elastic scattering, electron-positron pair production in
the field of the nucleus, and nuclear photoeffect cross section.
When x-rays travel through matter part of it will be absorbed. An x-ray photon is absorbed by the atom and the excess energy is
transferred to an electron, which may be expelled from the atom, leaving the atom ionized.
True absorption arises from electronic transitions within the atom. It can be understood in terms of quantum theory.
What happens depends on the wavelength and properties of the absorbing atom. When the energy is suitable, a photoelectron may be
ejected. The emitted characteristic radiation is called fluorescence radiation. An Auger electron may also be emitted.
Scattering: elastic scattering, Compton scattering (quantum theory)
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Nuclear photoelectric effect
Photonuclear absorption of the photon by the atomic nucleus results most usually in the ejection of one or more neutrons and/or
protons. This interaction can contribute as much as 5 % to 10 % to the total photon interaction cross section in a fairly narrow energy
region usually occurring somewhere between 5 MeV and 40 MeV. See e.g. (and references cited)
Linear attenuation coefficient and Lambert-Beer law
When x-ray beam travels through matter part of it will be absorbed. The absorbed intensity is proportional to the path in the matter,
-dI/ I = dz,
where is the linear attenuation coefficient.
Integration gives the ratio between the intensity of the incident beam I
and the transmitted beam
-dI = I(z) dz
dI /I(z) = dz
I(z=0) = I
I = I
This is the well-known Lambert Beer law,
I = I
exp(- z).
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Absorption is a result of the photons interacting with the electrons in the sample. When using energies 1-100 keV the most important
processes are photoelectric absorption, elastic scattering, and inelastic scattering.
The linear attenuation coefficient is the product of the absorption cross section
and the atomic density
f the material,

= ( N/A)
where N is Avocardo number and A the atomic mass number.
The atomic density is computed as

= (N/A)
and the electron density as

= N (Z/A)
where is the macroscopic density.
Mass attenuation coefficient /
X-rays are absorbed into the material or scattered.
Attenuation is described by mass attenuation constant / [cm
/g], where is the density.
I = I
exp(-(/) t),
where t is the thickness.
Heterogenous material, monochromatic radiation
I = I
exp(- (x) dx),
where (x) is the linear attenuation coefficient at location x. Integration limits are from 0 to t. Linear attenuation coefficient
= (/) .
Multicomponent system /
The ratio / [cm
/g] is a constant of the material and independent of its physical state.
Values of mass absorption constant are tabulated for various wavelengths (book International tables of Crystallography).
For a substance containing several elements i=1,2,...
/ = w1 1/ 1 + w2 2 / 2 + ... = _i wi i/ i,
where wi is the weight fraction of the element i.
Polychromatic beam
Polychromatic beam is used e.g. in tomography experiments. For homogeneous material the attenuation is described by
I(x) = (I
(E) exp(-(E)x) ) dE,
where E is the energy and I0(E) is the spectrum of the source.
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Heterogenous material, polychromatic radiation
I = ( I
(E) exp(- (x) dx) ) dE,
Energy absorption
How much of the beam energy is absorbed in the sample?
The total absorbed energy is
E = E
where E
is the total amount of energy of the incoming beam.
This is discussed at NIST www-pages
Example. Copper
Example. Absorption of water
Assume the radiation be CuK radiation with an energy of E = 8 keV. The density of water = 1 g/cm
and / = 10 m
/g. For 1 mm
thick water sample I/I
= 0.37.
Half layer thickness
I(t(1/2))/I(0) =
T(1/2) = ln(2)/
Example. For water
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T(1/2) = 0.13 cm at 10 keV
T(1/2) = 3.05 cm at 50 keV.
Absorption and energy
Absorption depends on the wavelength:
/ ~
where is a constant and Z is the atomic number of the element.
Low energy radiation is absorbed more easily than high energy x-rays.
Empirical Victoreen formula () = a
+ b
+ c
Constants a, b, and c, have been tabulated for various elements.
Absorption edges
Sharp discontinuities at K, LI, LII, LIII, M, absorption edges
Discontinuities correspond to wavelengths of the incident beam sufficient to eject an L, M, N electron from the atom.
Example. Platinum
X-ray absorption fine structure
The outgoing electron scatters from nearest atoms. This causes oscillations in the linear absorption coefficient.
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Emission lines
Difference of energy between two states is hv, where the frequency v of the radiation emitted when the atom goes from one state to
Example. K1 chracteristic line is due to KLIII transition: EK1 = EK - ELIII
Figure shows schematically variation of intensity from an x-ray tube. In some cases it is possible to find a material whose absorption
edge is just below the wavelength of the K line of the anode material.
Experimental determination of attenuation coefficient
Acta Cryst. (1990). A46, 402-408. Problems associated with the measurement of X-ray attenuation coefficients. II. Carbon. Report on
the International Union of Crystallography X-ray Attenuation Project D. C. Creagh and J. H. Hubbell
Acta Cryst. (1987). A43, 102-112. Problems associated with the measurement of X-ray attenuation coefficients. I. Silicon. Report of
the International Union of Crystallography X-ray Attenuation Project D. C. Creagh and J. H. Hubbell
Tabulated values in printed form
J.H. Hubbell, Review of photon interaction cross section data in the medical and biological context. Phys. Med. Biol. 44 (1999) R1-
W.H. McMaster et al, Compilation of X-ray Cross Sections, Lawrence Radiation Laboratory UCRL-50174 sec II, Rev. 1 (1969)
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International Tables for Crystallography,volume C
NIST databases include values of x-ray cross sections
X-ray properties from W. H.McMaster et. al. Compilation of X-ray Cross-Sections, National Bureau of Standards, for calculation of
x-ray cross sections.
Files for transmission as a function of energy
Absorption related data for elements
Element: Symbol, Z, Atomic weight, density
Edge energies (keV)
Edge jumps
Fluorescence yield (See course www-pages for more data bases)
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