Elemental analysis is a process in analytical chemistry in which a sample of material such as water, minerals and bodily fluid is analyzed to ascertain its elemental composition. Elemental analysis can be qualitative, determining which elements are present or quantitative, determining the levels of elements.

This article will outline some of the key forms of elemental analysis and what they are used for.


Scanning Electron Microscopy

Elemental analysis can be used to provide surface elemental composition information for scanning electron microscopy (SEM) for areas as low as nanometers in diameter. An electron beam scans the sample and monitors reflected electrons from the sample surface.

The impact of this electron beam creates X-rays which are representative of the elements present in the sample. This type of elemental analysis can also create elemental maps of the surface of a sample which can show which elements are present in small localized impurities or broad phases.


Neutron Activation Analysis

Neutron activation analysis is a highly sensitive and precise method for attaining needs of industries for trace elemental analysis. This sampling of elements is discrete, focusing specifically on the atomic nuclei of a sample. The elements form radioactive isotopes as the sample is bombarded with neutrons. This results in radioactive emissions and decay paths being determined which leads to the establishment of exact elemental concentrations.


Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS)

ICP-MS is an elemental analysis technology which can detect many of the periodic table of elements at milligram to nanogram levels per liter. This technique combines a highly sensitive mass spectrometric detector (percent level to parts per trillion (ppt) range) with an inductively coupled plasma source. It is employed in a range of industries such as geochemical analysis, metallurgy, environmental monitoring, pharmaceutical analysis, as well as in clinical research.


Determining Carbon, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Sulfur and Oxygen Content

Elemental analysis can be used to determine the levels of many gases via combustion analysis. This method employs the instant and complete oxidation of samples via “flash combustion”, converting every organic and inorganic substance into a combustion product and the resulting combustion gases determine the concentration information.

This method of elemental analysis is particularly useful for ascertaining the elemental composition and purity of unknown compounds as they generally establish the weight percentage of the element in a compound. This is particularly useful for chemical characterization in materials science, natural products and pharmaceutical products.


X-ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy for Chemical Analysis

XPS is a method of elemental analysis which is used for the surface of a sample employing a monochromatic X-ray beam. XPS uses a monochromatic X-ray beam to cause the emission of core electrons and the kinetic energy which is emitted helps to identify the elements present. This form of elemental analysis can be used to characterize particular functional groups related to a specific element.


X-ray Fluorescence

This elemental analysis technique employs photons from an X-ray tube which leads to inner shell electrons leaving the excitation volume of a tested sample. Fluorescent photons are then produced to balance the difference in energy between outer and inner shells and the fluorescent X-rays are characteristic of the atoms they originate from. This particular method of elemental analysis works well in applications of quality control.


Elemental Analysis from RQM+ Lab Services

At RQM+ Lab Services we can offer elemental analysis for a broad spectrum of inorganic components such as Uranium and Hydrogen. We are able to analyze even ultra-trace elements and both surface and bulk elemental composition.

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