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The Ewald sphere is a geometric construct used in electron, neutron, and X-ray crystallography which neatly demonstrates the relationship between:

* the wavelength of the incident and diffracted x-ray beams,

* the diffraction angle for a given reflection,

* the reciprocal lattice of the crystal

It was conceived by Paul Peter Ewald, a German physicist and crystallographer.

Ewald's sphere can be used to find the maximum resolution available for a given x-ray wavelength and the unit cell dimensions. It is often simplified to the two-dimensional "Ewald's circle" model or may be referred to as the Ewald sphere.

Ewald Construction

A crystal can be described as a lattice of points of equal symmetry. The requirement for constructive interference in a diffraction experiment means that in momentum or reciprocal space the values of momentum transfer where constructive interference occurs also form a lattice (the reciprocal lattice). For example, the reciprocal lattice of a simple cubic real-space lattice is also a simple cubic structure. The aim of the Ewald sphere is to determine which lattice planes (represented by the grid points on the reciprocal lattice) will result in a diffracted signal for a given wavelength, λ, of incident radiation.

The incident plane wave falling on the crystal has a wave vector Ki whose length is 2π / λ. The diffracted plane wave has a wave vector Kf. If no energy is gained or lost in the diffraction process (it is elastic) then Kf has the same length as Ki. The amount the beam is diffracted by is defined by the scattering vector ΔK = KfKi. Since Ki and Kff have the same length the scattering vector must lie on the surface of a sphere of radius 2π / λ. This sphere is called the Ewald sphere.

Ewald construction

The reciprocal lattice points are the values of momentum transfer where the Bragg diffraction condition is satisfied and for diffraction to occur the scattering vector must be equal to a reciprocal lattice vector. Geometrically this means that if the origin of reciprocal space is placed at the tip of Ki then diffraction will occur only for reciprocal lattice points that lie on the surface of the Ewald sphere.

Applications

Small Scattering-Angle Limit

When the wavelength of the radiation to be scattered is much smaller than the spacing between atoms, the Ewald sphere radius becomes large compared to the spatial frequency of atomic planes. This is common, for example, in transmission electron microscopy. In this approximation, diffraction patterns in effect illuminate planar slices through the origin of a crystal's reciprocal lattice. As one tilts a single crystal with respect to the incident beam, diffraction spots wink on and off as the Ewald sphere cuts through one zero order Laue zone (ZOLZ) after another.

Physics Encyclopedia