Applications and Solutions of ICP Spectroscopy

Inductively Coupled Plasma (ICP) spectroscopy is a sensitive chemical method for analyzing samples in order to determine their chemical composition. It is done using an electromagnetically charged apparatus, which utilizes gas flow techniques to collide nebulized liquid samples with extremely hot plasma. The method also uses a mass spectroscopy equipment to analyze the ionization of gas particles that flow from the plasma channel.

XRF Scientific has previously examined the processes and mechanisms of ICP spectroscopy in greater depth, but this article will particularly explore some of the most common ICP applications in more detail.

Trace Element Determination

The ICP is primarily used in the process of atomic determination of trace elements in liquid samples. Ionized particles are measured in an optical sample chamber with the help of the incident light of the plasma torch and precise optical sensors. Each element is categorized by its specific wavelength and light intensity characteristics. They enable the autonomous acquisition of data, which relates to the elemental concentration and distribution of samples. A sample is the product of the spectral properties of the element.

This ICP application has numerous practical uses, such as supporting forensic investigations, minerals processing and archaeological processes.

Medical ICP Applications

ICP mass spectroscopy is usually used in the medical sector for diagnosing analytes, such as blood and urine. The testing of those biological samples enables medical professionals to accurately determine the presence of toxic substances, such as mercury. Despite the developments in regulations and certifications, metal exposure is a consistent danger for industrial workers in the electronic or engineering industries.

Diagnostic ICP application allows researchers to detect both the presence of foreign substances in a sample and also its type and genesis. Potentially, this could enable affected individuals to seek restitution.

It is important that biological ICP samples are adequately treated and prepared prior to performing any of the possible ICP processes. Biological samples may need to be diluted and treated with flux materials to remove elements that could block or damage the pneumatic components of the ICP machine.

Forensic ICP Applications

Forensic detection is another incredibly sensitive ICP application. It is possible to match samples based on their elemental compositions as determined by trace element analysis. This is achieved by the characterization of distinct trace element signatures of a soil sample, for example, and comparing it to soil found elsewhere. Matching the signatures can provide actionable evidence in criminal investigations. However, high purity sample preparation is crucial in such applications.

Archeology ICP Applications

The innovations in the ICP application in recent years have radically changed the way archeologists and historians assess valuable historical samples. The innovation in the techniques of non-invasive sample acquisition has enabled researchers to collect microscopic amounts of surface material from artifacts of high value without damaging the integrity of the sample. The samples are, then, submitted for ICP analysis by being liquefied and mixed with a fusion flux mixture.

The determination of trace elements in historical items has provided a great number of insights into different areas in history, thus proving to be extremely helpful.  It has also helped to refute long-held beliefs and proposing new research ideas.

XRF Scientific: Enabling ICP Applications

XRF is a leading supplier of ICP sample preparation equipment and solutions. Those have multiple applications, such as customizing fusion flux mixtures to ICP application specific ratios in order to enable accurate trace element analysis in a broad range of fields.

ICP Solutions from XRF Scientific

Inductively coupled plasma (ICP) analysis involves ionizing analytes with plasma that is heated to a high-temperature. The analysis also aims at determining the elemental composition of the analytes. The determination is done by analyzing the mass and charge of ionized particles. ICP processes are expensive, complex and require several instruments to maintain optimal experiment conditions and to acquire resulting data.

Such equipment includes spectroscopy systems, electromagnetic coils and carefully prepared samples to ensure that analytes are of high purity. If these strict conditions are met, an ICP laboratory setup can detect almost any element from the periodic table at trace or major concentrations.

Sample Preparation for ICP Analysis

In a typical ICP spectroscopic array, liquid samples are pneumatically nebulized and passed on to argon plasma via a cold flow of gas. After that they are vaporized in the argon plasma and subsequently ionized. Large particles are unsuitable for ICP analysis. Therefore, the grander liquid particles are separated from the analyte cross flow in a spray chamber. It is hard to convey this methodology in the ICP analysis of solid samples.

For that reason, when analyzing solid samples, they must be first liquefied through dissolution, which is done either by acid digestion or fusion methods. XRF Scientific provides a broad range of lithium tetraborate (Li2B4O7) and lithium metaborate (LiBO2) eutectic fusion mixtures for ICP sample preparation.

These fluxes are non-hygroscopic in nature and retain a persistent low water content of content of below 0.04% during the fusion processes. As a result, they maintain excellent samples that can flux ratios in order to ensure high quality analytical results.

Sustaining those precise ratios is crucial for experiment repeatability and accuracy. XRF provides a range of high throughput flux measurement equipment in order to be able to sustain sample preparation parameters that are accurate. The equipment can perform ICP flux measurement tasks with exceptional degrees of accuracy up to 1 mg. It can also dose predetermined amounts of a fusion flux mixture into platinum crucibles that can withstand the high temperatures of the dissolution process, ranging up to 1250 °C.

To prepare ICP solutions, the platinum crucible is dosed with the correct ratio of the sample flux and it is transferred to a fusion instrument. XRF provides a range of electric fusion machines, including:

  • xrFuse 1: with a ceramic cradle and versatile holders. For both pre-heating and ICP processes, they boast a zero contamination levels and their flexibility is at high levels.
  • xrFuse 2: with programmable fusion parameters, including two stages of the cooling process;
  • xrFuse 6: with a contamination-proof, high-purity ceramic chamber that is capable of performing cold-to-cold operations.

This comprehensive range of ICP equipment is available for various specifications, with product packages available to consolidate the costs of achieving the highest quality results.


This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by XRF Scientific.

For more information on this source, please visit XRF Scientific.


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