Inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry

Inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry, also called ICP-MS, is a highly sensitive method that gives quantitative results of elements and different isotopes in samples at milligram to nanogram levels per liter. ICP-MS has many applications, from water purity testing to material science. 

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What is ICP-MS?

ICP-MS is a high throughput analysis method that is capable of detecting most of the elements in the periodic table. Modern ICP-MS instruments offer linear dynamic ranges up to twelve orders of magnitude. This enables simultaneous analysis of major and minor elemental components of the same sample. Besides low-concentration (ppb=parts per billion=µg/l) accuracy, ICP-MS performs reliably in ultra-low concentrations (ppt=parts per trillion=ng/l and even ppq=parts per quadrillion). The method is capable of measuring atomic mass ranges from 7 to 250, meaning it detects elements from Lithium to Uranium. ICP-MS can even distinguish different isotopes of elements present in a sample.

How does ICP-MS work?

ICP-MS uses high temperature plasma that breaks down the chemical compounds in the samples to their atomic ions. After this, mass spectrometry is used to detect and quantitate the ions. ICP-MS is capable of distinguishing different isotopes of the same element.

ICP-MS is most often used to analyze solid or liquid samples, but also gaseous samples can be investigated. Most common ICP-MS instruments rely on liquid injection, meaning that the solid and gaseous samples must be dissolved into liquids prior the analysis. With solid samples, this is most often achieved by acid digestion with hot mineral acids. Gases can be trapped to suitable liquids by pubbling. If sufficient results cannot be achieved by pretreating solid or gaseous samples, special instruments can be used to investigate these samples without dissolving pretreatment. For example, LA-ICP-MS (laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry) can be used to study surfaces of solid samples directly.

The difference between ICP-MS and ICP-OES

The principle of ICP-MS is measuring the mass of the atoms through mass spectrometry, as explained above. ICP-OES (Inductively Coupled Plasma Optical Emission Spectroscopy) on the other hand, is based on analysing the wavelengths of the excited atoms and ions of the elements in the sample.

The difference in use cases is that ICP-OES is a more robust method for analysing samples that have a higher amount of total dissolved solids and stricter regulations. Examples of this type of samples are ground water, wastewater, soils and solid waste .

What is ICP-MS used for?

ICP-MS is most often used in multi-element trace studies. It can for example be used to analyze heavy metal contamination of water, consumer goods or pharmaceutical products. Other metal trace studies are also common.

Suitable sample matrices

  • Raw materials
  • Waste
  • Drinking and process water
  • Impurities in drugs and pharmaceuticals
  • Biomass
  • Environmental measurements
  • Mining, rocks and minerals
  • Catalysts
  • Isotope studies
  • Organic polymers
  • Food and beverages
  • Semiconductor materials

Ideal uses of ICP-MS

  • ICP-MS is used to detect elements and different isotopes from Lithium to Uranium.
  • Optimal for liquid and solid samples in environmental studies.
  • The ICP-MS is used in elemental tracing and detection.

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Frequently asked questions

What is ICP-MS commonly used for?

The ICP-MS has many applications, for example it can find elemental impurities and toxins. For example, pollutants can be found in environmental samples. It is commonly used to test water and soil samples in ecological studies.

Food industry uses the ICP-MS analysis to find contaminations in their products. 

Pharmaceutical industry checks inorganic impurities from drugs with ICP-MS.

ICP-MS is a reliable multi-detection method that is used to find rare-earth elements, which are commonly used as catalysts in the production of different chemicals and materials.

What are the limitations of ICP-MS?

ICP-MS can't be used for detection of hydrogen, helium, carbon and few other light elements. 

What kinds of samples can be analysed with ICP-MS?

ICP-MS is suitable for most sample matrices, including liquid, gasses and solids. 

What is Measurlabs?

Measurlabs offers a variety of laboratory analyses for product developers and quality managers. We perform some of the analyses in our own lab, but mostly we outsource them to carefully selected partner laboratories. This way we can send each sample to the lab that is best suited for the purpose, and offer high-quality analyses with more than a thousand different methods to our clients.

How does the service work?

When you contact us through our contact form or by email, one of our specialists will take ownership of your case and answer your query. You get an offer with all the necessary details about the analysis, and can send your samples to the indicated address. We will then take care of sending your samples to the correct laboratories and write a clear report on the results for you.

How do I send my samples?

Samples are usually delivered to our laboratory via courier. Contact us for further details before sending samples.

Inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) detects elements and different isotopes from ultra-low concentrations. Measur provides ICP-MS services with quantitative results. ICP-MS analysis is capable of detecting elements from Lithium to Uranium.