Atom probe tomography and correlative microscopy: Key techniques for future planetary science studies

McCarroll, Ingrid E.; Daly, Luke; White, Lee F. and Cairney, Julie M. (2022). Atom probe tomography and correlative microscopy: Key techniques for future planetary science studies. MRS Bulletin, 47(7) pp. 696–705.



Our Galaxy is vast and awe-inspiring. The stars, planets, and our sun capture our imagination as children. For many of us, that wonder never ceases. It continues to inspire us throughout our careers and prompts us to question the evolution of our Solar System, to question what our place is within it, and how we may maintain longevity in a relatively volatile environment. To answer these questions planetary scientists turn to the study of extraterrestrial material. They analyze meteorites, impact craters, and materials returned by sample return missions for the evidence of events that are known to induce crystallographic and/or elemental changes, or for evidence of extraterrestrial isotopic abundances that point to the age and the original source of the material. Through these studies, we can constrain timelines of events that have occurred throughout the Solar System’s extensive history. Recently, atom probe tomography (APT) has been applied to the study of these materials. APT in correlation with larger-scale analysis techniques has provided insights into isotopic ratios or nanoscale distribution of elements, enriching our knowledge, and minimizing uncertainties in the time frame of critical cosmic events. The continued use of correlative microscopy with APT for the study of planetary science, including studies of small amounts of pristine materials delivered to the Earth by exciting sample return missions, promises to provide key information into the history of our Solar System. Here, we highlight the implications of correlative microscopy with APT for the future pursuits of planetary science, we reflect on the groundbreaking research already achieved, the challenges that have been overcome to achieve these outcomes and the challenges yet to come.

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