The peak next to the zero loss peak is caused by excitation of surface and/or bulk plasmons. The energy region of the EEL spectrum (EELS) up to the energy loss of ∼50 eV is dominated by the collective excitations of valence electrons (plasmon) and by interband transitions. The plasmon peak is the second most dominate feature after the zero-loss peak. Typical values of the plasmon energies of materials are between 5 eV and 30 eV. The plasmon peaks are thus in the low energy loss region. The plasmons can provide information about the dielectric function , valence electron densities, and, in some cases, the phases presented in alloys.
Plasmon consists of longitudinal wave-like oscillations of weakly bonded electrons. The oscillations are rapidly damped with a typical lifetime of ~10-15 seconds and thus are localized to <10 nm. For many materials the plasmon energy, based on free-electron theory (Drude model ), Eplasmon, is proportional to the square root of the density (n) of valence electrons (approximately equal to free-electron density):
= ħω(q) ------------------------- [3417b]
ħ -- The reduced Planck constant.
e -- The charge of the electron.
me -- The effective mass of the electron.
ε0 -- The permittivity of vacuum (or called the dielectric constant of free space).
The plasmon energy loss can experimentally provide indirect semi-quantitative information because the free-electron density n changes with the chemistry or bonding state of the TEM specimen. The empirical plasmon peak position (Ep) can be given by,
Ep = Ep(0) ± C(dEp/dC) ------------------------------------ [3417c]
Ep(0) -- The plasmon energy loss for the pure component (See the table on page4623).
C -- The composition.
Therefore, once Ep is obtained from EELS measurement, then C can be evaluated. For instance, as shown in Figure 3417, empirical sp2/sp3 ratios in amorphous carbons were evaluated based on Equation 3417c and the relative intensity of k-edge 1s to π* transition [4-8].
Figure 3417. Fraction of sp3 bonding as a function of the bulk plasmon energy. 
The Drude-Lorentz model presents the maximum intensity of the plasmon energy loss peak, given by, 
Γ -- A constant describing the damping of the oscillation (which is full width at half maximum (FWHM) of the plasmon energy
And, ------------------------ [3417e]
-- Energy of single damped harmonic
εc -- Dielectric constant.
The dispersion relation of bulk plasmon for small wave-vectors q is given by,
EP,0 -- The plasmon energy at q = 0.
γ -- An experimental coefficient.
Note that Table 4623 lists bulk plasmon energies, full-width-at-half-maximum of bulk plasmon energies, bulk plasmon mean free path, and inelastic mean free path of some common elements and compounds, as well as their crystal structure.
The interpretation of the features of low-loss regions in EELS from free-electron metals is fairly straightforward because the signals arise mainly from bulk and surface plasmon excitations and the energies of the peaks from bulk (Ebulk) and surface (Esurface) plasmon excitations have the simple relationship given by,
Ebulk = √2Esurface -------------------------- [3417g]
For thick TEM specimens, e.g. ≥80 nm for Si, the surface-plasmon effects becomes negligible, while the beam spreading becomes significant because more electrons suffer inelastic collision in larger scattering angles. In this case, more electrons scatter outside the finite collection aperture.
On the other hand, the interpretation of the features of the low-loss regions from transition metals is more difficult because of some factors. In transition metals, both plasmon losses and interband transitions induce energy loss and the plamon losses generally do not occur at the energies theoretically predicted by free-electron model. Different from the case presented in Equation 3417g for free-electron metals, there is no simple relationship between the bulk and surface plasmon loss energies for a transition metal due to too much dependence on the band structure. Moreover, some electrons in certain d-bands may not be able to participate in collective plamon oscillations.
Note that the mean-free-path is also slightly dependent on the electron optical conditions of the microscopes, such as objective and collection aperture sizes. However, in most EELS measurements, this dependence is negligible.
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