Journal of Materials Research


Towards an integrated materials characterization toolbox

Ian M. Robertsona1 c1, Christopher A. Schuha2, John S. Vetranoa3, Nigel D. Browninga4, David P. Fielda5, Dorte Juul Jensena6, Michael K. Millera7, Ian Bakera8, David C. Dunanda9, Rafal Dunin-Borkowskia10, Bernd Kabiusa11, Tom Kellya12, Sergio Lozano-Pereza13, Amit Misraa14, Gregory S. Rohrera15, Anthony D. Rolletta15, Mitra L. Taheria16, Greg B. Thompsona17, Michael Uchica18, Xun-Li Wanga19 and Gary Wasa20

a1 Department of Materials Science and Engineering, University of Illinois, Urbana, Illinois 61801

a2 Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139

a3 Materials Sciences and Engineering Division, Office of Basic Energy Sciences, U.S. Department of Energy, Washington, District of Columbia 20585

a4 Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science and Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, University of California—Davis, Davis, California 95616; and Condensed Matter and Materials Division, Physical and Life Sciences Directorate, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Livermore, California 94550

a5 School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, Washington State University, Pullman, Washington 99164

a6 Risø National Laboratory for Sustainable Energy, Materials Research Division, Technical University of Denmark, 4000 Roskilde, Denmark

a7 Materials Science and Technology Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tennessee 37831

a8 Thayer School of Engineering, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire 03755

a9 Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 60208

a10 Center for Electron Nanoscopy, Technical University of Denmark, DK-2800 Kongens Lyngby, Denmark

a11 Materials Science Division, Argonne National Laboratory, Argonne, Illinois 60439

a12 Cameca Instruments Corporation, Madison, Wisconsin 53711

a13 Department of Materials, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3PH, United Kingdom

a14 MPA-CINT, MS K771, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, New Mexico 87545

a15 Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15213

a16 Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104

a17 Metallurgical and Materials Engineering, The University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama 35487

a18 Materials & Manufacturing Directorate, Air Force Research Laboratory, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio 45433

a19 Neutron Scattering Science Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tennessee 37831

a20 Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109


The material characterization toolbox has recently experienced a number of parallel revolutionary advances, foreshadowing a time in the near future when material scientists can quantify material structure evolution across spatial and temporal space simultaneously. This will provide insight to reaction dynamics in four-dimensions, spanning multiple orders of magnitude in both temporal and spatial space. This study presents the authors’ viewpoint on the material characterization field, reviewing its recent past, evaluating its present capabilities, and proposing directions for its future development. Electron microscopy; atom probe tomography; x-ray, neutron and electron tomography; serial sectioning tomography; and diffraction-based analysis methods are reviewed, and opportunities for their future development are highlighted. Advances in surface probe microscopy have been reviewed recently and, therefore, are not included [D.A. Bonnell et al.: Rev. Modern Phys. in Review]. In this study particular attention is paid to studies that have pioneered the synergetic use of multiple techniques to provide complementary views of a single structure or process; several of these studies represent the state-of-the-art in characterization and suggest a trajectory for the continued development of the field. Based on this review, a set of grand challenges for characterization science is identified, including suggestions for instrumentation advances, scientific problems in microstructure analysis, and complex structure evolution problems involving material damage. The future of microstructural characterization is proposed to be one not only where individual techniques are pushed to their limits, but where the community devises strategies of technique synergy to address complex multiscale problems in materials science and engineering.

(Received January 08 2011)

(Accepted January 26 2011)

(Online publication June 07 2011)

Key Words:

  • X-ray tomography;
  • Transmission electron microscopy (TEM);
  • Scanning electron microscopy (SEM)


c1 Address all correspondence to this author. e-mail:


This section of Journal of Materials Research is reserved for papers that are reviews of literature in a given area.

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