Integrated atomic force microscopy and x-ray irradiation for in-situ characterization of radiation-induced processes

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Understanding radiation-induced chemical and physical transformations at material interfaces is important across diverse fields, but experimental approaches are often limited to either ex situ observations or in situ electron microscopy or synchrotron-based methods, in which cases the radiation type and dose are inextricably tied to the imaging basis itself. In this work, we overcome this limitation by demonstrating integration of an x-ray source with an atomic force microscope to directly monitor radiolytically driven interfacial chemistry at the nanoscale. We illustrate the value of in situ observations by examining effects of radiolysis on material adhesion forces in aqueous solution as well as examining the production of alkali nitrates at the interface between an alkali halide crystal surface and air. For the examined salt–air interface, direct visualization under flexible experimental conditions greatly extends prior observations by enabling the transformation process to be followed comprehensively from source-to-sink with mass balance quantitation. Our novel rad-atomic force microscope opens doors into understanding the dynamics of radiolytically driven mass transfer and surface alteration at the nanoscale in real-time.