A glimpse in the chemical industry and electron diffraction

Riding the wave of newness and disruption is definitely exciting when it comes novel technologies and fresh perspectives on crystallography. However, it sometimes comes down to day-to-day usage, to industrial harmonization and how a certain innovation can fit the practical landscape. That is precisely why Dr. Bernd Hinrichsen, the speaker for our upcoming webinar, leverages his remarkable experience to discuss electron diffraction through pragmatic lenses.

You can register for the presentation held by Bernd here

As a crystallographer, Dr. Bernd Hinrichsen was trained at Cologne University and received his PhD from the Stuttgart Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research in 2007. After 3 years as an Application Scientist XRD at Bruker AXS, he has been with BASF for a decade, leading the XRD labs as well as being responsible for the electron microscopy and solid-state NMR laboratories.

We asked him a couple of questions about the state of ED in the industrial sector.

Eldico: You talk about ‘the long history’ of electron diffraction in the chemical industry – and yet a fresh subject for crystallography research at large. How would you explain the gap?

Bernd Hinrichsen: The first commercially produced transmission electron microscope was applied in some research labs of the chemical industry in Germany. The legacy lives on in the “physics labs” of BASF in Ludwigshafen, today the largest electron microscopy laboratory in the chemical industry. Electron diffraction on aluminium foil was in fact one of the first experiments performed by Ernst Ruska during the development of the first electron microscope.

You work at one of the biggest chemicals’ producer in the world. Are you applying ED already and how?

Over the past decades, electron diffraction has been a regular tool during our analyses of inorganic materials. The selected area diffraction (SAD) method on a polycrystalline sample results in a diffraction signal that can be interpreted in a similar fashion to powder diffraction data. This is a useful method to crystal structure identification and is regularly used within our lab.

How important is the development of a dedicated instrument for ED for the industry? And why? 

TEMs are complex instruments designed for diverse methods and operated by experts with diverging interests. ED instruments with proper, i.e. more tailored functionalities are required to adequately address the requirements of the crystallographic structure analysis community. TEMs can only be regarded as a steppingstone towards a better instrumentation. A dedicated electron diffractometer would be such a better tool.

What are the typical applications of crystallography in your company and what changes would ED make in your field?

Crystallography is key in polymorph analyses, battery, and catalysis research as well as all other inorganic and now more strongly in the field of polymers. ED has the potential to influence all of these fields. The main driver is the necessity to understand “real” – especially battery and catalyst – materials in contrast to those that have been artfully coaxed into large crystallites. There can be dramatic differences in their structures leading to different properties. It is this search for a better understanding -especially of industrially relevant materials - that motivates our interest in this method.

When did you first started to tackle ED and why? Did you immediately understand the disruptive potential of the new technique? 

Structure solution based on single crystal diffraction in TEMs entered our focus a little over ten years ago, when Ute Kolb solved the structure of an orange pigment that was unknown and not accessible via powder diffraction data. Since then, we have been looking into many various materials using single crystal electron diffraction and foresee a strong growth in this field.

Do you have personal favourite publications on ED? Or are there any public resources you could recommend? 

I love the work that Ute Kolb publishes as it is very often along the line of materials that also interest me i.e. mostly inorganic stuff. Her work is seminal to the method.

Register for the webinar

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ELDICO Scientific, The Electron Diffraction Company, is a Swiss hardware company founded 2019 and is located in Switzerland Innovation Park Innovaare at the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI), one of the world's leading research centers for natural and engineering sciences. ELDICO develops, produces and sells electron diffractometers for the analysis of solid compounds enabling industrial and scientific researchers to characterise hitherto unmeasurable nano-crystalline systems. So far conventional methods (X-ray) fail, because they require bigger crystal sizes, which are often difficult or even impossible to produce. With support of the Nano Argovia Programme and the Swiss Nanosience Insitute (SNI) the proof-of-concept was achieved in 2018 (ETH Zurich, C-CINA Basel) on scientifically and industrially relevant samples.