Total reflection x-ray fluorescence (TXRF) analysis is a powerful analytical tool with respect to detectable elemental range, simplicity of quantification and detection limits. This includes the capacity to detect almost all elements of the periodic system, namely from boron to uranium. Even the highest-Z elements of the actinides can be detected. Quantitatively, the dynamic range covers several orders of magnitude, so ultra-trace element levels to major elemental concentrations can be determined. In terms of detection limits, the levels of femtogram absolute detectable masses under optimized excitation–detection conditions can be reached. Some of these features can be topped with additional properties such as rapid analysis time of a few seconds and simultaneous detection of the elements present. In some applications, non-destructiveness is of importance, e.g. while dealing with precious substances of cultural values from fine arts or also in cases of forensic investigations if only small amounts of sample are available. TXRF is an energy-dispersive XRF (EDXRF) technique, and excitation geometry with angles below the critical angle of total reflection is perfectly suited for these investigations.
The above statements emphasize the analytical power, and in addition to these arguments one can add the large number of applications that has led to the revival of x-ray fluorescence analysis for ultra-trace element analysis. The applications range from the interesting fields of medicine, techniques and environment to forensic, fine arts, extra-terrestrial samples and fundamental research. With new physical and technical ideas leading to modifications of the physical properties of the primary radiation, e.g. monoenergetic, linearly polarized, highly intense, or on the detector side high resolution, high counting capacity, large area or even arrays of detectors, new perspectives are opening up for TXRF
In Fig. 1 the experimental set-up of conventional EDXRF and TXRF is schematically shown. As TXRF is basically an energy-dispersive analytical technique, the main difference to conventional EDXRF is neither the source nor the detector but the geometry of excitation at small incidence angles below the critical angle of total reflection.