Organisms, physical and chemical processes change the relative abundance of elements in the rocks, skeletons, and waters of our planet. Using the elemental composition of materials, we can piece together Earth’s history, identify unknown dangers in our environment and tap into new resources. Amongst the instruments in our elemental toolbox is the inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometer (ICP-MS). Ions are generated when sample in solution is sprayed into a plasma. When these ions are passed onto a mass spectrometer, the concentration of different elements and their isotopes can be determined based on their mass-to-charge ratio. ICP-MS instruments are popular because in a matter of minutes the concentrations of elements with a wide range of atomic masses, from 6Lithium to 238Uranium can be determined.
The Department of Earth and Environmental Science has a long history of providing elemental analysis in the former Keck Lab on the 4th floor, however, this much-used space has just reopened its doors as the Michigan Elemental Analysis Lab (MEAL). The lab space has been completely renovated to accommodate two new inductively coupled mass spectrometers (ICP-MS) – a Quadrupole ICP-MS and a High-Resolution ICP-MS. Effectively the new lab will provide solution-based elemental analysis on a variety of materials from rock through to natural waters in concentration ranges from ppm to ppt in biological, environmental, geological and industrial materials.