University Of Cape Town Geology – X-ray Diffraction

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University Of Cape Town Geology – X-ray Diffraction

University Of Cape Town Geology – X-ray Diffraction

The fascinating science of geology helps to solve the riddles of the planet’s past and present. Geologists at the University of Cape Town explore deeply the composition and structure of rocks and minerals with the aid of cutting-edge technology like X-ray Diffraction (XRD). They are able to interpret geological marvels due to this potent analytical tool, which has significantly advanced the field.

Learning about X-ray Diffraction

A non-destructive analytical method used to evaluate the crystallographic characteristics of materials is called X-ray Diffraction (XRD). Geologists can ascertain the mineralogical composition, crystalline structure, and physical characteristics of rocks and minerals by shining X-rays on a sample and examining the diffraction pattern that results from the interaction of the X-rays with the sample’s atomic structure. These details offer vital new understandings of the genesis, evolution, and behavior of numerous geological materials.

University Of Cape Town X-ray Diffraction

Powdered samples for qualitative analysis of crystalline materials are routinely analyzed in Geological Science.  A Phillips PW 3830/40 Generator with a PW 3710 mpd control X-ray diffraction system using the Xpert data collector/identify software is used to obtain and interpret XRD spectra.

As the method is qualitative and the machinery relatively easy to operate, students are encouraged to run and interpret their own samples and thus also benefit from discounted rates.
External analyses for other tertiary institutions and private companies are done on a first-come-first-serve basis by the Scientific Officer in charge of the XRD, Mr. Nicholas Laidler.  An hourly rate is charged which excludes a fee for interpretation and any other additional sample preparation needed for analysis
X-ray Fluorescence

The Panalytical Axios XRF spectrometer is housed in the XRF Facility, which is configured to analyze a variety of main and trace elements in prepared solid materials. Using fused disks made with lithium borate flux, the regular analysis of the eleven primary elements Fe, Mn, Ti, Ca, K, S, P, Si, Al, Mg, and Na (together with Ni and Cr when Ni and Cr concentrations surpass 2000 ppm or 0.2%) is determined.

On pressed powder briquettes, trace element concentrations are determined, and intensity measurements are corrected for spectrum differences and mass absorption/enhancement. Rock standards from throughout the world are utilized for calibrating.

The majority of X-ray fluorescence equipment is located in South Africa. These tools are widely employed, among other things, in the industrial production of steel, and cement, and the characterization of ores. Since the early 1960s, when X-ray fluorescence technology was first introduced, the Department of Geological Sciences at UCT has been on the cutting edge of its development. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Department participated in the XRF study of lunar samples brought back by American Apollo missions.
a rhodium end-window X-ray tube and a sample-changer (56 sample capacity) are features of the Panalytical Axios wavelength-dispersive XRF spectrometer. There is a Claisse Fluxer available to help with fusion disk preparation. Powder briquettes are made using a hydraulic cold press and die. A specially constructed hydraulic splitter, a Sturtevant laboratory jaw-crusher, and a Seibtechnik swing mill with carbon steel cassettes of various sizes are used for sample preparation.


Numerous internal labs and analytical facilities are maintained by the Department of Geological Sciences. Both internal and external (other tertiary institutions and businesses) users can use the facilities for a reasonable price. The following facilities/equipment are located inside the Department:


Multi-collector ICP-MS
Quadrupole ICP-MS
Electron Microprobe
X-ray Fluorescence (XRF)
X-ray Diffractometer (XRD)
Linkam Fluid Inclusion Laboratory
Stable isotope Laboratory
Geophysics Software Laboratory
Sedimentology Laboratory

Laboratories and equipment are supported by staffed, hygienic labs, and sample preparation facilities. The Department also has a room for rock crushing and a thin-section facility.

Additionally, a variety of vehicles owned by the Department of Geological Sciences are used to support fieldwork and research operations at the University. On a first-come, first-served basis, you can hire these. For additional information, get in touch with John Harrison at or 021-650-2909.

For more information regarding the X-ray Diffraction facility, please contact:

Mr. Nicholas Laidler
(021) 650-2932
Lab Address:
Rm 1.09 Geological Science


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