BSc Materials Science and Engineering

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Materials Characterisation and Analytical Techniques

Course unit fact file
Unit code MATS31201
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 6
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Department of Materials
Available as a free choice unit? No


This unit provides an introduction to the range of advanced characterisation techniques available in materials research, as well as to the principles that control how they operate.


The unit aims to:

  • Introduce the range of advanced techniques available for the characterisation of materials, including microscopy, spectroscopy and thermal analysis.
  • Discuss the basic underlying principles of how they operate (such as particle material interactions, optical systems etc.)
  • Make students aware of the limitations and applications of different characterisation methods.

Learning outcomes

A greater depth of the learning outcomes will be covered in the following sections:

  • Knowledge and understanding
  • Intellectual skills
  • Practical skills
  • Transferable skills and personal qualities

Teaching and learning methods

Lectures, group tutorials (problem sessions), recommended textbooks, web resources, electronic supporting information (Blackboard).


Knowledge and understanding

  • Describe the limits of resolution including the effect of lenses and aberrations in optics.
  • Differentiate between bulk and spatially-resolved characterisation techniques.
  • Describe the principles and applications of transmission and scanning electron microscopy.
  • Explain the principles and applications of analytical techniques for structural, textural and chemical characterisation in electron microscopy.
  • Describe the principles and applications of molecular and thermal characterisation techniques.
  • Compare and contrast the principles and applications of ion based techniques for sample preparation, 3D tomography and chemical information.
  • Describe the principles and applications of light microscopy and spectroscopy techniques and identify their key merits.
  • Describe strategies to materials characterisation using the above techniques and be able to carry out fundamental interpretations of measurements.
  • Describe the relative advantages and disadvantages of different techniques and the relative strengths and weaknesses for when analysing different materials problems.

Intellectual skills

  • Extract relevant information from images obtained using different techniques and use this information to characterise the material under observation.
  • Describe how spectroscopic techniques can be used and what can be gained from them as analytical tools.
  • Analyse and interpret information from structural, texture and chemical characterisation techniques for analysis of materials.
  • Identify and describe the artefacts and limitations of different imaging and spectroscopy techniques.
  • Select the right analytical technique or choose a suitable combination of complementary techniques to analyse complex materials problems.

Practical skills

  • Not applicable

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Develop their analytical capability and direct this understanding towards creative problem solving.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written exam 70%
Written assignment (inc essay) 30%

Feedback methods

Feedback given written/verbal

Recommended reading

• (good sections on TEM, Diffraction and Imaging, Optical Microscopy)
• (interactive resources on EM)
•    Electron Microscopy and Analysis, Goodhew el al., Taylor & Francis Ltd (London) 2000 ISBN 9780748409686  (available online through the library) 
•    Aberration-corrected analytical transmission electron microscopy, Brydson et al., RMS-Wiley, 2011
•    “Nanosystem characterization tools in the life sciences” By Challa S. S. R. Kumar, Wiley (2006)
•    P.J. Haines Principle of Thermal Analysis, RSC Paperbacks (2002)
• (including free downloadable e-book)
•    Electron backscatter diffraction in materials science, by A.J. Schwarz, M. Kumar, B.L. Adams, D.P. Field. Springer US (2009), ISBN: 9780387881362
•    Scanning electron microscopy and x-ray microanalysis, J. Goldstein et al Springer (2018)
•    “Secondary ion mass spectrometry: an introduction to principles and practices” by P. van der Heide. Wiley (2014), available online from University library.
•    “Industrial X-Ray Computed Tomography” by S. Carmignato, W. Dewulf, R. Leach, Springer (2018)
•    “Practical Surface Analysis” by D. Briggs and M. Seah, Wiley, (1992)
•    “Texture Analysis” by V. Randle and O. Engler, Gordon Breach, 2000
•    “Essentials of Crystallography” by Duncan McKie and Christine McKie, Blackwell Scientific Publications, Oxford, 1986
•    “Texture and Anisotropy” by U.F. Kocks, C.N. Tome, H.R. Wenk, Cambridge University Press, 1998
•    “Recrystallization and related Annealing Phenomena” by F.J. Humphreys G.S. Rohrer and T. Rollett, Elsevier, 2017
•    ‘Texture analysis in Materials Science” by H. Bunge, Butterworths, London, 1982

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Practical classes & workshops 4
Independent study hours
Independent study 74

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Katie Moore Unit coordinator

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