Exciting times in Manchester! A few months ago we were awarded a grant by the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council to equip ourselves with a new piece of kit. The system comprises an excimer laser (LA) hooked up to an inductively coupled plasma (ICP) mass spectrometer (MS) – or LA-ICP-MS in short!
LA-ICP-MS can be used to measure the abundance of pretty much any element in the periodic table down to the part per billion level in very diverse materials ranging from biological tissues to fossilised bones, or from metal alloys to melt inclusions trapped in mineral phases. To do this the laser beam is typically focused to a spot size of ~5 to 50 microns (about half the size of a typical human hair!) – the material ablated from the target is then ionised in a plasma before being filtered and analysed in the ICP-MS.
In the group we plan to use LA-ICP-MS for a wide range of projects, including dating planetary samples through the decay of uranium into lead, or measuring trace element abundances in mineral phases in Apollo and meteorite samples for example (you can find out more about our research here).
Last week we installed the ICP-MS part of the system. Compared to most mass spectrometer, the ICP-MS is surprisingly tiny. The laser turned up this week, and will be connected to the ICP-MS once its beam is properly aligned. The slideshow below shows a few photos of the progress we have made so far!