Two recently developed three-dimensional electron diffraction methods have shown great potential for phase identification and structure determination of polycrystalline powder materials. Their combination with powder X-ray diffraction makes them powerful techniques for phase identification in multiphase samples and the determination of very complex structures from nano- and micron-sized crystals.
Phase identification and structure determination are important and widely used techniques in chemistry, physics and materials science. Recently, two methods for automated three-dimensional electron diffraction (ED) data collection, namely automated diffraction tomography (ADT) and rotation electron diffraction (RED), have been developed. Compared with X-ray diffraction (XRD) and two-dimensional zonal ED, three-dimensional ED methods have many advantages in identifying phases and determining unknown structures. Almost complete three-dimensional ED data can be collected using the ADT and RED methods. Since each ED pattern is usually measured off the zone axes by three-dimensional ED methods, dynamic effects are much reduced compared with zonal ED patterns. Data collection is easy and fast, and can start at any arbitrary orientation of the crystal, which facilitates automation. Three-dimensional ED is a powerful technique for structure identification and structure solution from individual nano- or micron-sized particles, while powder X-ray diffraction (PXRD) provides information from all phases present in a sample. ED suffers from dynamic scattering, while PXRD data are kinematic. Three-dimensional ED methods and PXRD are complementary and their combinations are promising for studying multiphase samples and complicated crystal structures. Here, two three-dimensional ED methods, ADT and RED, are described. Examples are given of combinations of three-dimensional ED methods and PXRD for phase identification and structure determination over a large number of different materials, from Ni–Se–O–Cl crystals, zeolites, germanates, metal–organic frameworks and organic compounds to intermetallics with modulated structures. It is shown that three-dimensional ED is now as feasible as X-ray diffraction for phase identification and structure solution, but still needs further development in order to be as accurate as X-ray diffraction. It is expected that three-dimensional ED methods will become crucially important in the near future.