Inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) is one of the most sensitive ways to measure concentrations of elements, usually in aqueous solutions.

ICP-MS is widely used to characterise ENMs, by confirming their elemental composition (including the ratio of core composition and any chemical dopants) and to quantify the presence of ENMs in environmental matrices (soil, organisms, etc.).  

Single-particle or spICP-MS is a further advance on the technique, that allows distinction between the particulate form and the dissolved fraction present in the sample, as well as giving particle size information.

  1. A sample containing the element of interest is pumped into a nebulizer that disperses into fine droplets.
  2. The spray chamber removes the largest droplets so that only fine droplets make it into the plasma.
  3. The plasma temperature is ca. 7000K where water evaporates and all elements are brought to a gaseous ionic state.
  4. The ions are drawn into the interface because of the presence of vacuum and negative potentials. The quadrupole MS then allows only one mass-to-charge ratio to pass.
  5. The detector then counts or measures the number of ions of the element of interest.

Used in


      Saturated column tests


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  Geert Cornelis

  Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU)

  Email: Geert.cornelis@slu.se