Rich Brown on Microanalytical Sample Prep Trends

Executive Director, Rich Brown was recently interviewed by Lab Manager about the sample preparation techniques and tools we use here at MVA Scientific Consultants:

Rich Brown on Microanalytical Sample Prep Trends
Rich Brown is an executive director and scientist at MVA Scientific Consultants in Duluth, Georgia.
By Rachel Muenz | June 13, 2016

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Trends in Microanalytical Sample Prep
His expertise is in failure analysis, material analysis, and microanalysis of small particles and contaminants using polarized light microscopy, infrared microspectroscopy, Raman spectroscopy, and scanning electron microscopy with energy dispersive X-ray spectrometry. Rich enjoys helping clients solve challenging issues with his microanalytical expertise. His nickname is the “Particle Detective.” Rich developed his expertise in particle characterization over a 30-year career analyzing a variety of materials, including fibers, glass, paints, metals, polymers, nanoparticles, and others. He has published his microanalytical work and interesting case studies in numerous peer-reviewed journals and book chapters.

Q: What sort of work does MVA Scientific Consultants do?

A: We’re a full-service analytical microscopy laboratory. We offer customized contract testing, investigative analysis, particle sizing, and consulting services to help all types of industries solve problems. We do that with our microscopes—we have scanning electron microscopes, transmission electron microscopes, polarized light microscopes, and interference microscopes for surface roughness, just to name a few. We have 21 staff members, though that number varies with interns coming in and out.

Q: What kind of sample prep does your work involve?

A: The work we do for the most part is nonstandard, so the sample prep really depends on what type of particle sample we get. Sometimes they can be multiple particles agglomerated together, or it could be a large piece of material that needs to be cut up or sectioned so that we look at particles that are either inside of it or adhering to it. Particle prep is done manually and it’s a very time-intensive and skill-oriented type of work for us.

Q: How long does that sample prep take?

A: It varies. Sometimes [we’re working with] a single particle, a particle being usually less than a millimeter, or we have visible and sub-visible [particles] that are 100 micrometers and smaller. It could be a single particle or just a couple of particles that have to be taken through three or four different microscopy labs. We’ll use a number of different analytical techniques, like FTIR microscopy or Raman microscopy, SEM, and polarized light microscopy on the same particle or on sub-samples of particles from the same sample. So it could take an hour or it could take several days. We had one sample where the prep, since it was a total unknown, took us several days to actually separate it from the substrate of interest. That was a fun one.

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You can read the full Lab Manager “Ask the Expert” article here.