A New Oxidation Based Technique for Artifact Free TEM Specimen Preparation of Nuclear Graphite

Document Type


Publication Date





Graphite is a key component in designs of current and future nuclear reactors whose in-service lifetimes are dependent upon the mechanical performance of the graphite. Irradiation damage from fast neutrons creates lattice defects which have a dynamic effect on the microstructure and mechanical properties of graphite. Transmission electron microscopy (TEM) can offer real-time monitoring of the dynamic atomic-level response of graphite subjected to irradiation; however, conventional TEM specimen-preparation techniques, such as argon ion milling itself, damage the graphite specimen and introduce lattice defects. It is impossible to distinguish these defects from the ones created by electron or neutron irradiation. To ensure that TEM specimens are artifact-free, a new oxidation-based technique has been developed. Bulk nuclear grades of graphite (IG-110 and NBG-18) and highly oriented pyrolytic graphite (HOPG) were initially mechanically thinned to ∼60 μm. Discs 3 mm in diameter were then oxidized at temperatures between 575 °C and 625 °C in oxidizing gasses using a new jet-polisher-like set-up in order to achieve optimal oxidation conditions to create self-supporting electron-transparent TEM specimens. The quality of these oxidized specimens were established using optical and electron microscopy. Samples oxidized at 575 °C exhibited large areas of electron transparency and the corresponding lattice imaging showed no apparent damage to the graphite lattice.