A review is given of recent developments in energy-dispersive x-ray emission spectroscopy, with the aim of providing both an introductory and usefully practical look at this innovative field. The review begins with the first principles of x-ray production and observation, including a brief comparison of the performance capabilities of different types of detectors, but then specializes to a major extent in solid state x-ray spectrometers, which have led to the most significant new developments and applications. Evidence is presented which suggests that we are nearing an asymptotic limit in the attainment of ever better resolution with these types of systems. Applications that have been made possible by significant improvements in system resolution are discussed, but in the context of the need for a realistic appraisal of over-all system requirements. The great advantages offered by the marriage of silicon x-ray spectrometers to scanning electron microscopes and electron microprobe analyzers are reviewed and illustrated.

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