Elemental Analysis: Detection, Identification, and Quantification
Elemental analysis identifies and quantifies elements and molecular species in a sample, with detection ranges for trace and ultratrace analysis spanning ppm to ppt levels, as well as bulk analysis. The range of techniques is far-reaching, including atomic absorption, arc spark, ICP-MS, ICP-OES, ESI-MS, XRF, and analyzers for carbon, sulfur, and nitrogen.
Historically, elemental analysis techniques have figured prominently in biomedical, environmental, petrochemical, food safety, and pharmaceutical arenas, but they are also being used in less traditional ways; museum laboratories, for example, have discovered XRF for nondestructive trace analysis of pigments in artwork.
How to choose an elemental analysis system?
Since so many techniques fall under the umbrella of elemental analysis, selecting the appropriate technique can seem daunting, especially considering the considerable overlap of capabilities. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses regarding detection limits, sample throughput, and multisample capabilities, so start here to find the best choice for your sample and element:
What elements can this technique measure, and what sample states (liquid, solid, gas)?
How many elements can be analyzed?
How many samples per day?
What’s the lowest analytical concentration range?
What about the detection limit?
Advances in elemental analysis
Although certain elemental analysis techniques have been around for decades, development is ongoing, from additional applications and industries to new hardware. A few interesting advances: ICP-OES instruments designed to minimize argon consumption; ICP-MS being used along with GC-MS and LC-MS for metals quantification in proteomics and metabolomics; and new XRF techniques, including total reflection XRF, with much lower detection limits that make it a good fit for use in fields such as pharmaceuticals and nanoparticles.
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