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A Comparison between ICP


Spectrometric Techniques

ICP Plasma Source

Both ICP OES and ICP MS are considered the most advanced level and rapid
analysis techniques available for estimation of elements at trace and ultra trace levels.
Both the techniques are based on atomisation and excitation of the sample in the
plasma source. An understanding of the plasma excitation source is essential for
appreciating the two techniques.

Plasma Excitation Source

Plasma also termed as the fourth state of matter is the most abundant form of matter in
the universe because majority of stars comprise of matter in the plasma state. It contains
free ionised atoms and electrons. It is possible to confine it into a small volume in the
laboratory and use it as a source for atomisation and excitation of samples introduced
into it as a liquid aerosol.
The ICP source comprises of three concentric tubes made of quartz for argon and
sample aerosol introduction. Argon gas spirals tangentially upwards and the gas from

the nebuliser with sample moves inside the inner sample tube. Plasma is generated
above the inlet jet by means of radio frequency energy applied to the coil. The plasma
attains a temperature of 6000 8000 K which is sufficient to excite the sample
elements. The detection of elements beyond the source is based on measurement of
light emission by elements (ICP OES) or by separation of ions on the basis of mass to
charge (m/z) ratio (ICP MS)

ICP OES also referred to as ICP Atomic Emission Spectroscopy (ICP AES) isolates
the emitted light by the source into discrete component wavelengths using a diffraction
The sensitivity of the technique is in direct proportion to the light intensity emitted at each
wavelength and simultaneous analysis systems afford analysis of up to 60 elements in a
single run. Large linear dynamic range
permits detection levels between sub ppm to
about 1000 ppm levels in less than a minute. It is a robust technique affording analysis in
presence of up to 20% dissolved solids.

ICP MS takes advantage of excitation leading to ionization of elements as well as
separation of ionised species by quadrupole mass separation and detection by electron
multiplier system. In addition to estimation of the elements it is also capable of providing
isotope ratio studies.
ICP MS can achieve higher linear dynamic range up to
which permits
determination at concentration levels ranging from sub-ppt to ppm levels. ICP MS
cannot be used for samples having total dissolved solids as these effect nebuliser and
efficiency. Capabilities of ICP- MS have been further exploited by coupling with LC to
conduct speciation studies on metals bound to proteins and other organic molecules.
ICP MS systems are more expensive than ICP OES systems and operational cost is
also higher due to higher consumption of argon gas but the cost factor is offset by the
distinct advantages offered by the technique.
A subsequent article will provide guidance on selection of elemental analysis techniques
as per your analysis requirements.