Scanning Electron Microscopy


All physico-chemical techniques used in the analysis of urinary calculi have inherent advantages and limitations. Al though x-ray powder diffraction can identify constituents unambiguously, certain minor components can be missed. Infrared spectroscopy is more sensitive but band assignment at low concentrations is difficult. Scanning electron microscopy together with energy dispersive x-ray analysis permits the simultaneous investigation of morphology and chemical microstructure. However, microanalysis of elements lighter than sodium is not possible and constituents are prone to irradiation damage. With the electron microprobe, minor constituents can be detected but tedious sample preparation procedures are required. Transmission electron microscopy is extremely useful in determining constituent inter-relationships and ultrastructure but ultramicrotomy is very difficult. Thermal gravimetric analysis gives quantitative information easily but does not satisfactorily distinguish between struvite and brushite.

In an attempt to assess the accuracy of chemical analyses, 62 calculi were investigated applying several chemical tests. Those for Mg2+, PO43- , NH4+ and uric acid proved highly reliable while that for Ca2+ often yielded an incorrect result. The test for oxalate was totally unsatisfactory.

Investigators of stone composition and structure should include x-ray diffraction (or infrared spectroscopy) and scanning electron microscopy as their methods of first choice. In addition, chemical or thermogravimetric analyses should be utilized in an auxiliary capacity.

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