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Nanoscale infrared spectroscopy as a non-destructive probe of extraterrestrial samples

Gerardo Dominguez, A. S. Mcleod, Zack Gainsforth, P. Kelly, Hans A. Bechtel, Fritz Keilmann, Andrew Westphal, Mark Thiemens & D. N. Basov

Nature Communications 5, No 5445 (2014)
Advances in the spatial resolution of modern analytical techniques have tremendously augmented the scientific insight gained from the analysis of natural samples. Yet, while techniques for the elemental and structural characterization of samples have achieved sub-nanometre spatial resolution, infrared spectral mapping of geochemical samples at vibrational ‘fingerprint’ wavelengths has remained restricted to spatial scales >10 μm. Nevertheless, infrared spectroscopy remains an invaluable contactless probe of chemical structure, details of which offer clues to the formation history of minerals. Here we report on the successful implementation of infrared near-field imaging, spectroscopy and analysis techniques capable of sub-micron scale mineral identification within natural samples, including a chondrule from the Murchison meteorite and a cometary dust grain (Iris) from NASA's Stardust mission. Complementary to scanning electron microscopy, energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy and transmission electron microscopy probes, this work evidences a similarity between chondritic and cometary materials, and inaugurates a new era of infrared nano-spectroscopy applied to small and invaluable extraterrestrial samples.