The Plasma Chemistry Laboratory provides high-precision elemental analyses of environmental, biological, geological, and archaeological materials using inductively coupled plasma (ICP) technology. Quantitative and qualitative elemental analyses are available using ICP mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) and optical emission spectrometry (ICP-OES). In 2016, the Plasma Chemistry Laboratory expanded its analytical capabilities to include a multicollector ICP-MS (MC-ICP-MS), dedicated to isotope ratios of radiogenic species such as lead and strontium. In 2019 the laboratory acquired a laser ablation system for direct introduction of solid samples into the ICP-MS. In addition to ICP technology, the Plasma Chemistry Laboratory offers direct mercury analysis by thermal decomposition, producing fast and accurate quantitative mercury determination in liquid and solid matrices.

The laboratory provides analytical services to the University System of Georgia researchers, as well as to external academic and industrial customers. The mission of the laboratory is to provide quality analytical data to researchers and to assist in preparing university students for STEM careers.


Sample Preparation

The Plasma Chemistry Laboratory provides sample preparation for elemental and isotopic analyses for a variety of sample matrices, and a class 100/1000 clean room enables ultra-trace analysis sample preparation.



The Inductively Coupled Plasma Optical Emission Spectrophotometer (ICP-OES) is dedicated to analyzing major elements and some trace elements in sediments, waters, plants and other biological matrices. The laboratory utilizes a Perkin Elmer 8300 ICP-OES, which allows measurement of a wide range of concentrations within the same run. ICP-OES analysis is best suited for high-throughput analysis of samples where multiple-elemental analysis is necessary and analyte content is expected to be within 10 ppb to 1 percent.

Typical applications of ICP-OES include: riverine and lacustrine elemental analysis, waste water and sludge analysis, analysis of fertilizers and composts, foodstuffs, pharma, archeological sample analyses, soils and sediments analysis, and analysis of metalloproteins.


The Plasma Chemistry Laboratory operates two Thermo X-Series 2 and an Agilent 7500 Series ICP-MS. These instruments are dedicated to high-precision elemental analysis of low-concentration and trace-elements in a variety of samples. The Thermo X-Series 2 ICP-MS provide collision cell technology (CCT) and kinetic energy discrimination (KED) analysis, for improved analytical measurement when polyatomic interferences are of concern. These technologies help to minimize the presence of interferents that complicate the analysis of Al, K, V, Cr, Mn, Fe, As, and Se.

Typical applications of ICP-MS include: organometallics research, rare earth analysis of geologic and environmental samples, heavy metals analysis, toxicology, forensics, provenance studies, pharmaceutical research, nanoparticle research, contaminants in environmental systems, protein/enzyme metal interactions.

Mercury AnalysisMercury Analysis

A Milestone DMA-80 is used for quick, quantitative mercury analysis in liquids and solids. This method requires minimal sample preparation, short analysis times, and high throughput. Detection limits range from 0.03 ng to 1500 ng mercury.

Typical applications include: fish, soil, sediment and sludge, hazardous materials, chemicals, polymers, paints, coatings, waters, and foodstuffs.


The multi-collector lab at CAIS was installed during the 2015-2016 academic year and is dedicated to measurement of isotopic ratios in a variety of elemental systems. We house a nu-Plasma II high resolution multi-collector mass spectrometer fitted with 15 faraday collectors and 5 ion counters, coupled to a dry desolvating system which allows for increased sensitivity for measuring very dilute solutions.

Laser Ablation

For solid samples, laser ablation (LA) provides an alternative to digestion. The laser interacts with the sample surface to remove a very small amount of material that is sent to the ICP-MS, resulting in limits of detection in the ppm range with minimal damage to the sample. Because the samples are not fully consumed, LA-ICP-MS is ideal for forensic and archaeological samples that require more sensitivity than XRF. Bulk analysis is possible for homogeneous samples. For heterogeneous samples line scans, depth profiling, and mapping are possible. Laser spot sizes in the Teledyne LSX-213 G2+ range from 4 to 200 um, with smaller spots providing higher spatial resolution and larger spots providing better limits of detection. Typical applications include minerals, otoliths, shells, ceramics, paints and coatings.


What volume is needed for analysis?

The volume needed depends on the type of analysis required. Single-element ICP-OES and ICP-MS require a minimum of 3 mL per analysis. We request a minimum of 5 mL for reanalysis or duplicates. Multi-element ICP-OES and ICP-MS require a minimum of 4 mL; please submit a minimum of 6 mL for reanalysis or replicate measurement.

What type of sample matrix do you accept?

For accurate quantitative analysis, the sample matrix must match the standard matrix—generally, this means 2% nitric acid. Samples should be submitted in dilute acid, be free of particulates, and have a low (< 0.1%) total dissolved solid (e.g. salts) content. Solutions containing particulates will not be analyzed. Samples requiring filtration or centrifugation will be assessed an additional fee. Please do not submit samples in concentrated acid, as we will not accept these. Additionally, we are currently not equipped to analyze samples in hydrofluoric acid and will not accept samples in HF. Please identify contents of sample matrix (e.g. type of acid and concentration, water) in the sample submission form.

What is the difference between ICP-OES and ICP-MS?

Please check out our ICP-OES and ICP-MS information pages. There you will find a great deal of useful information on theory and operation.

Which instrument should I request for analysis?

Selecting the best technique requires consideration of detection limits, analytical working range, interferences, and cost. ICP-OES operates with higher detection limits than ICP-MS. For the majority of elements, either instrument may be used. In these cases, selecting the appropriate instrument depends primarily on the analyte concentration and the presence of interferences. While ICP-MS can identify concentrations in the sub-ppb to ppb range, ICP-OES is ideal for the sub-ppm to ppm range. Therefore instrument and technique selection requires some insight into the approximate concentration range. Another important consideration when selecting the appropriate analytical method is that of interferences. Please read our ICP-OES and ICP-MS information sections for information on types of interferences in these techniques. A literature search can help you identify how previous researchers have analyzed similar samples and how to best deal with the shortcomings of each analytical method.

How do I prepare my samples? Can I submit unprepared samples?

The best method for sample preparation is dependent on the sample matrix and the research goals. Please see our Sample Preparation Guidelines for more information. If you prepare your own samples, you will also need to submit a blank sample that has been processed identically to your other samples. Samples that are not digested or prepared accordingly will not provide accurate data. We can prepare samples if requested and for an additional fee (please see our price charts, under analytical services, for more information).

My samples precipitate out of solution if acidified, what should I do?

If your sample precipitates out of solution, the sample has not been thoroughly digested. The sample must be digested before analysis. If the sample is not digested, you will not get accurate quantitative results. Please see our Sample Preparation Guidelines section and Sample Matrix Selection Guide sections for more information.

How much will it cost to analyze my samples?

Please see our price charts, under analytical services, for more information.

Which elements are identified by ICP-MS or ICP-OES?

Please see our Guide to Selecting the Most Suitable Technique section for more information.

How much protein should I submit for ICP-MS or ICP-OES analysis?

This is a tricky question and depends on the analyte of interest and the interaction between the analyte and the protein. If you know the stoichiometry between the analyte and the protein—based on previous studies or a literature search—you can calculate the concentration of protein solution required for either ICP-OES or ICP-MS analysis, depending on which technique is best suited to answer your research question (please see #4 above). If you do not have any information on the stoichiometry, it’s best to submit various concentrations.

Can ICP-MS or ICP-OES identify the oxidation state of an element?

ICP-OES does not provide information on oxidation state. ICP-MS can be coupled to other instruments, such as an HPLC, for speciation work. Please contact us directly if you are interested in speciation analyses.