Isotope-Ratio Mass Spectrometry (IRMS) is a spectroscopic technique that employs mass spectrometry to determine the ratio of different isotopes within a sample. IRMS can be used to establish the sample's isotope fingerprint, which gives it applications in evaluating the authenticity and geographical origin of substances.
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What is IRMS analysis used for?
IRMS is used to measure the ratio of different elemental isotopes in a sample. Its ability to identify natural isotopic variations makes IRMS useful in studying the geographical origin of food products and textiles. The isotope composition of materials and substances differs based on environmental factors, which means that isotope-ratio analysis can be used to identify counterfeit products and products originating from problematic geographic regions. This includes, for example, determining whether agricultural products are local or whether textiles originate from areas where the use of forced labor is widespread.
How does isotope fingerprinting with IRMS work?
IRMS can be used to establish the so-called isotope fingerprint of a product by identifying the ratio of specific isotopes (atoms with an equal number of protons but a different number of neutrons) that the product contains. IRMS generally focuses on a selection of light-stable isotopes, meaning non-radioactive isotopes of carbon, nitrogen, sulfur, oxygen, and hydrogen. By comparing the isotope fingerprint of the sample to a reference library, it is possible to determine whether the product's origin matches what the supplier claims.
Sample requirements and preparation
Samples analyzed through IRMS are typically organic solids or liquids that contain different isotopes of C, N, H, O, and/or S. Some examples include water, textile fibers, sediment, and various food and beverage samples, like wine, honey, dairy products, fruit, and vegetables. Typical sample preparation steps include drying and homogenization of the sample material, after which a suitable amount is weighed for analysis.
Advantages and limitations of IRMS
IRMS offers a way of measuring isotopic variations with extremely high levels of accuracy. It can be used to detect isotope values of lighter elements with no issues, making it instrumental in the analysis of organic and natural samples. Isotope-ratio mass spectrometry usually only requires a small amount of sample matter to achieve consistently accurate results.
As with all mass spectrometry techniques, IRMS is a destructive method that ionizes and destroys the original sample, which cannot be recovered. Some heavy metal isotopes can be particularly difficult to ionize, and therefore might not be compatible with a standard IRMS setup. Often another method, such as thermal ionization mass spectrometry (TIMS), is used for analyzing heavier isotopes. Similarly, the analysis of radioactive isotopes for the purpose of radiocarbon dating is generally performed using another method, such as accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS).
Need an isotope analysis?
Measurlabs offers high-quality isotope analysis services with IRMS for industry and research purposes. Please contact our experts using the form below or at firstname.lastname@example.org and describe the goal of your project and the samples you wish to analyze. We will get back to you within one business day.
Suitable sample matrices
- Organic materials
- Food and beverages
- Soil samples
- Plant and animal tissues
Ideal uses of IRMS
- Identifying the geographic origins of a product
- Following isotopes in the food chain
- Monitoring natural processes
- Forensic investigation
- Anti-doping testing
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Frequently asked questions
Common applications of IRMS include food authenticity testing, identifying the geographical origin of products, and detecting the use of synthetic testosterone in anti-doping testing.
IRMS analysis is focused on the stable isotopes of light elements (C, H, N, O, and S), usually in samples of natural origin. Suitable sample types include environmental samples (water, soil, sediment) and food products (cheese, fruit & vegetables, wine, honey), among others.
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.
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.
Samples are usually delivered to our laboratory via courier. Contact us for further details before sending samples.