The Chemical/Biosciences instrumental laboratory recently gained a valuable new tool: a Perkin Elmer Optima 8000 ICP-OES spectrometer. ICP is an acronym for “inductively coupled plasma,” while OES stands for “optical emission spectroscopy.” OES is a method of analyzing chemical mixtures or solutions to determine concentrations of trace elements. In this technique, a sample of the material being analyzed is energized to excite its atoms. Since the excited atoms of each element emit light at specific characteristic wavelengths, the presence and the amounts of various elements can be determined by monitoring the emitted light. Some instruments use the heat of a flame to excite the sample, but ICP uses a “plasma” made of ionized argon gas energized by an electromagnetic field.
One of the most important features of an ICP instrument is its very low detection limit. An ICP can typically detect the presence of analytes, such as arsenic or lead in drinking water, at concentrations below one part per billion. When you consider that one part per billion is the equivalent of one second out of a time span of 32 years, the amazing ability of this instrument becomes obvious.
The department is excited about having this new instrument on board and to be able to allow students to gain some valuable hands-on experience in this state-of-the-art analytical technology.