Making Mystery Materials Give Up Their Secrets Faster

An electron microscope is a powerful tool for analyzing the composition of everything from metal alloys to complex chemicals. Performing actual experiments, however, can be tedious. To measure the precise amounts of a substance, the microscope first has to be carefully calibrated through a long process of trial and error.

Now, researchers at the National Institute of Standards & Technology in Gaithersburg, Md., have produced a new computer program and data base that provides a short cut to avoid trial and error. "The program allows you to model the entire experiment at your desktop," explains NIST physical scientist Charles Fiori, one of the developers. "You put a hypothetical specimen under the microscope and find out if you can detect a hypothetical element."

The Desktop Spectrum Analyzer & X-Ray Database (DTSA) program also analyzes data from actual experiments. And DTSA breaks new ground in another way: In an effort to get some financial return from taxpayer-funded research, NIST is selling the software for $790.

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