Coherent X-ray Diffraction allows reconstruction of small particles with ~15 nanometer resolution. However, High Resolution Transmission Electron Microscopy (see current issue of MRS Bulletin for review) can achieve an atomic-scale resolution for crystalline nanoscale objects.
But since electrons interact very strongly with positively charged ions in the lattice, electron microscopy cannot see deep inside of materials. X-rays have deep penetrating power, and can provide detailed structural information about deeply buried structures. In small-angle scattering regime all of the material in the path of the x-rays will contribute to the coherent speckle. However, using the energy tunability feature of synchrotron sources, one could scan the energy across the resonant edge of a specific element, changing the effective electron density of specific atomic species. The difference between density maps will reveal the specific elemental distribution of this atomic species, since all other elements will subtract off. Changyong Song from John Miao’s Coherent X-ray Imaging group at UCLA and co-workers have demonstrated this by imaging a Bi nanostructure buried deep within Si matrix (Phys. Rev. Lett. 100, 025504 (2008) ). This microscopy technique, which combines lens-less imaging based on phase-retrieval of coherent x-ray diffraction pattern and the resonant measurements could be extended to samples containing multiple elements – repeating these measurements at various adsorption edges of different elements will produce detailed elemental maps of deeply buried structures (microns or more beneath the surface).