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The Power of Having AZtec Analysis ‘at Home’ – AztecTimed Stories

27th January 2021 | Author: Iain Anderson

The Power of Having AZtec Analysis ‘at Home’ – AztecTimed Stories

I recently took some time to look back at my photographs from 2020 and one of my favourites was a shot of my partner heading off to the plane to do a tandem skydive. 

'Top Gun' moment - Jumping out of a plane raises £2,000 for charity.

Partly I like the picture because of the composition but I think maybe more for the memories of a brief few weeks over the summer when skydiving was a legally sound reason to leave home… before we quickly slid back toward coronavirus induced lockdown. 

There’s an old saying in photography that “the best camera is the one you have with you” and while that outing was a perfect excuse to carry a decent camera, I found the rest of my 2020 album to be dominated by a bunch of snaps taken with a smartphone.  You can’t take a picture without a camera but thanks to modern phones the notion of being anywhere without a camera seems far-fetched… something which has a dramatic impact on the shape of social media and the wider internet today. 

Sadly, the same cannot be said for electron microscopes and as access to labs has become increasingly restricted, both we and our customers have had to adapt to make progress with our work. 

With data acquisition the focus has been on productivity using remote access, where the challenge of controlling both SEM and analytics through two separate remote connections is significant. This recent blog discusses new functionality in AZtecLive which helps make the process of navigating multiple samples through AZtec more straightforward. 

Data processing, however, is a different story as during the Covid-19 pandemic we offered AZtecTimed, a free time-limited licence to access the full range of capabilities of the AZtec software, including AZtecCrystal for EBSD and AZtecFeature for particle analysis.

So, what can you achieve with unrestricted access to data processing software, installed on any PC? 

Develop your skills

Dr Aruni Fonseka at the University of Warwick described the benefit of being able to use AZtec software how, when and where she wanted by saying “It was only after lockdown that I realised how powerful the software is.” 

Even before the pandemic, restricted access to the software installed on live equipment often means working unsociable hours just to spend time with the software, and for many of us that is in direct conflict with our personal responsibilities. 

Aruni feels that now she has learned more about AZtec her data interpretation is better and she can make the same data go further.

Fonseka et al – Multiple radial phosphorous segregations in

(a) ADF STEM image of a cross-section from a GaAsP core–shell nanowire.

(b) False colour higher magnification image of (a), showing the core and first shell.

Numbered white solid arrows indicate multiple radial P-rich bands formed at A radii.

Inset plots show the integrated intensity profiles from a 2.5 nm wide strip around the respective white broken arrow. The dips in these intensity profiles correspond to the P rich bands. The inset FFT confirms the {110} type nanowire facets. (c) EDX maps showing P, As and Ga elemental distribution at the radius g in shell 1.

All scale bars are 20 nm and the colour scales in (c) are linear between the respective indicated values.

Some other customers used AZtecTimed to train themselves before their microscope and detector are delivered.  With installation delays due to Covid-19 the hope is to be more effective after install and to catch up on lost time. 

Ensuring familiarity before sitting down at the microscope means when you do start acquisition you can deliver better data in less time and ultimately this leads to both higher quality work and better utilisation of the equipment.


How do you teach a lab course under COVID-19 restrictions?

This was the question facing professor Nataliya Starostina at Santa Clara University, and her answer was a great example of the creativity needed to be successful when adapting to new circumstances. 

Using the free licence with AZtecFeature, Nataliya created a completely new graduate level lab course focused on data analysis, complementing an existing course on image acquisition and hands-on experience operating scientific instrumentation.

Slides from student’s final presentation.

Each student was able to install the software on their personal devices and investigate experimental data obtained from nanoparticles, eutectic SnBi alloys and alpha-brass CuZn alloys without going to the characterization lab in person.  They explored the differences between nominal composition, as-acquired data and data corrected by the software as well as compared morphology parameters of the features of interest to the same set of parameters obtained by a different image analysis software; findings and analyses were presented as part of the final exam.

Keep Publishing

Collecting good quality data is only the beginning of EBSD analysis and many researchers have taken the opportunity to spend more time using our EBSD data processing package, AZtecCrystal.  The modern software is simple to learn, packed with powerful features and easily handles huge datasets – it’s ideal for interrogating material microstructure.

Just one example of this is a recent publication in Additive Manufacturing by Wang et al2 investigating the microstructural evolution of alloys which have been manufactured by selective laser melting (SLM) and are then subjected to various aging treatments.

While lab access is difficult, the pressure to publish has not diminished and with new data in short supply, tools like AZtecCrystal can also help stretch existing datasets further by providing an extra layer of information giving new insights into a sample or process.

Wang et al2 - EBSD map showing low angle (green), high angle (black) and twin (red) grain boundaries in Cu–15Ni–8Sn alloys.

We live in hope that 2021 will see a return to working with more freedom to travel, and easier access to our labs.  When that does happen, the skills learned, the processes formed, and the technologies developed over the past year will continue to have a lasting impact on our lives.

Back in April 2020, we launched AZtecTimed, a limited licence to assist with home working during unprecedented times. The popularity of AZtecTimed and the feedback we received indicated that access to a personal copy of AZtec is more than just the ability to open and view datasets away from the microscope. 

That's why we have launched AZtecFlex, a 12-month personal subscription licence for installation on your desktop or laptop, designed to let you use AZtec anywhere and without needing to access shared facilities.

Ask me a question Iain Anderson

Iain Anderson
EBSD Business Manager


1Fonseka, H.A., Zhang, Y., Gott, J.A. et al. 

“Multiple radial phosphorus segregations in GaAsP core-shell nanowires.”

Nano Res. 14, 157–164 (2021),

2Jibing Wang, Xianglin Zhou, Jinghao Li

“Evolution of microstructures and properties of SLM-manufactured Cu–15Ni–8Sn alloy during heat treatment.”

Additive Manufacturing, Volume 37, 2021, 101599, ISSN 2214-8604,

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