Particle-induced x-ray emission (PIXE)

Particle-Induced X-Ray Emission, also known as Proton-Induced X-Ray Emission (PIXE), is an analytical technique used for determining the elemental composition of a sample. It is non-destructive and can be used to analyze various materials, such as geological samples, archaeological artefacts, thin films, and proteins.

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What is PIXE analysis?

PIXE analysis is an effective method that provides chemical information about the elements present in the sample. It is a non-destructive technique, and therefore can be used to analyse sensitive and valuable samples.

How does PIXE work?

PIXE predominantly works by bombarding a sample with small ionic particles, such as H+ or He2+. The focused ion beam removes a low-energy electron from the inner shell of the atom. In order to maintain stability, a higher energy electron fills the spots that the low energy electron left behind. During this process, excess energy is released from the atom in the form of an X-Ray. The X-Rays are detected and their individual energies are recorded. The X-ray energies emitted are independent of the excitation process but are characteristic for the different elements. The specific energy of the X-Ray indicates the type of the atom, and therefore can identify the element present in the sample. By recording and combining data, this process can be used to determine accurately the elemental composition of the sample. X-Ray analysis can also be combined with backscattering analysis. Backscattered ions are scattered elastically from the sample's atomic nuclei back to its original direction. The detected energy of the backscattered ions is dependent on the mass of the target nucleus and the depth of the scattering event. Hence, backscattering can also provide information about the depth of the elements.

What is PIXE used for?

PIXE is a non-destructive technique to determine the elemental composition of a sample. It can be used to analyze geological samples, archeological specimens, thin films, and proteins. The method is also often used in archaeology and art conservation for dating objects, as it is a non-destructive method and does not harm the artefact itself. MicroPIXE is also used in protein analysis for the purpose of determining elemental composition of liquid and crystalline proteins. PIXE can be combined to RBS measurements (Rutherford backscattering spectrometry) to help identify heavy elements. Due to their similar masses, heavy elements may have only small differences in RBS backscattered energies, which make identification of different elements challenging. However, these elements might be seen in a PIXE spectrum and help determine the composition of heavy elements.

What are the limitations of PIXE?

While PIXE is a useful technique for elemental analysis, there are limitations to which elements can be detected. Typically, elements smaller than magnesium will not appear in a PIXE spectrum. For this reason, PIXE is generally more suitable for determining the composition of heavier metals rather than the organic components.

Do you need a PIXE analysis?

Measurlabs offers high-quality PIXE-analyses in top laboratories around the world. If your have any questions related to the method or your samples, our experts are happy to answer them and help find a solution to your analysis needs. Contact us through the form below or by emailing us at

Suitable sample matrices

  • Thin films
  • Geological samples
  • Archaelogical specimens
  • Artworks
  • Proteins
  • Bulk materials

Ideal uses

  • Determining the elemental composition of a material
  • Identifying the elemental composition during a geological survey
  • Dating artwork based on the elements present
  • Analysing archaeological artefacts based on composition

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Frequently asked questions

What is PIXE commonly used for?

PIXE is used for determining the elemental composition of a sample in a non-destructive way.

What are the limitations of PIXE?

Elements smaller than magnesium do not appear in a PIXE spectrum. PIXE is thus generally more suitable for determining the composition of heavier metals rather than the organic components.

What kind of samples can be analyzed with PIXE?

For example geological samples, archaeological specimens, artwork and thin films are suitable for PIXE-analysis.

What is Measurlabs?

Measurlabs offers a variety of laboratory analyses for product developers and quality managers. We perform some of the analyses in our own lab, but mostly we outsource them to carefully selected partner laboratories. This way we can send each sample to the lab that is best suited for the purpose, and offer high-quality analyses with more than a thousand different methods to our clients.

How does the service work?

When you contact us through our contact form or by email, one of our specialists will take ownership of your case and answer your query. You get an offer with all the necessary details about the analysis, and can send your samples to the indicated address. We will then take care of sending your samples to the correct laboratories and write a clear report on the results for you.

How do I send my samples?

Samples are usually delivered to our laboratory via courier. Contact us for further details before sending samples.