Artifact characterization and reduction in scanning X-ray Zernike phase contrast microscopy
Zernike phase contrast microscopy is a well-established method for imaging specimens with low absorption contrast. It has been successfully implemented in full-field microscopy using visible light and X-rays. In microscopy Cowley’s reciprocity principle connects scanning and full-field imaging. Even though the reciprocity in Zernike phase contrast has been discussed by several authors over the past thirty years, only recently it was experimentally verified using scanning X-ray microscopy. In this paper, we investigate the image and contrast formation in scanning Zernike phase contrast microscopy with a particular and detailed focus on the origin of imaging artifacts that are typically associated with Zernike phase contrast. We demonstrate experimentally with X-rays the effect of the phase mask design on the contrast and halo artifacts and present an optimized design of the phase mask with respect to photon efficiency and artifact reduction. Similarly, due to the principle of reciprocity the observations and conclusions of this work have direct applicability to Zernike phase contrast in full-field microscopy as well.