Synchrotron hard X-ray chemical imaging of trace element speciation in heterogeneous samples: development of criteria for uncertainty analysis†
Synchrotron hard X-ray spectroscopy with focussing optics allows recording X-ray fluorescence (XRF) maps at energies around element specific X-ray absorption edges. Stacking multiple XRF maps along the energy axis yields chemical images that contain spatially resolved information on the speciation of the absorber in the sample matrix at the micrometre scale. Short dwell times needed to keep measurement time and radiation-induced sample changes within acceptable limits result in spectral noise that affects the uncertainty in data analysis. In this study, we develop a model to quantify the uncertainty associated with the processing of XRF image stacks using Bayesian inference. To demonstrate the potential of our approach, the model is applied to stacks of XRF maps collected around the copper (Cu) K-edge (pixel size: 3 × 3 μm2, map sizes: 500 × 500 μm2). The investigated samples include digested sewage sludge spiked with either CuO nanoparticles (NP) or dissolved CuSO4 and their corresponding ashes obtained through incineration. The chemical imaging data reveal differences in species distribution between sludge spiked with CuO NP or dissolved Cu. These differences disappear during the incineration process and the resulting ashes exhibit almost identical Cu species distribution. The uncertainty analysis approach developed in this study can be used for data interpretation, but can also be used for the planning of chemical imaging experiments at synchrotron beamlines.