NRL Scientists Develop Enhanced 3-D Technique for Materials Analysis

3/10/1996 - 128-96r
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Scientists at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), in collaboration with scientists at the University of Virginia, have developed an experimental technique that combines serial sectioning and computer-aided reconstruction for the three-dimensional analysis of the internal microscopic structure or "microstructure" of materials. Using this method of materials characterization opens a new avenue for visualizing the true three-dimensional nature of microstructures, which is critical to the entire materials field, according to Dr. George Spanos of NRL's Materials Science and Technology Division (MSTD).

The serial sectioning technique consists of incremental polishing through a thin layer (0.2 µm) of material, chemically etching the polished surface, applying reference marks, and performing optical or scanning electron microscopy on selected areas, Dr. Spanos explains. After computer-aided registry to properly align the micrographs from each section, the series of images are viewed as both video sequences that "step through" the material slice-by-slice, and as three dimensional reconstructions using advanced computer visualization techniques.

Scientists in the materials field have typically used conventional optical and electron microscopy to characterize microstructures. However, these techniques usually provide only single two-dimensional views of materials. Researchers thirty years ago realized that three-dimensional information would be very helpful in their understanding of materials. However, at that time, the computer technology to make this type of analysis worthwhile was not readily available. It is the advances in computer technology, according to Dr. Spanos, that have enabled scientists today to develop this enhanced three-dimensional analysis technique. The team of scientists working on this project, headed by Dr. Spanos, includes Drs. Milo Kral and Peter Moore both of MSTD and Mr. Charles Williams of NRL's Visualization Laboratory.

This new three-dimensional reconstruction technique is an important tool that allows scientists to have a better understanding of microstructural development, and in turn improves their control of the mechanical and physical properties of advanced materials used in the Fleet.

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