A Beginner’s Guide to ICP-MS Instruments

Quality assurance, trace element analysis, and process management all benefit from using ICP-MS equipment. They use a novel mass spectrometer design, including isotope dilution followed by plasma (ICP) creation after the column.
Since they are non-destructive and can identify trace elements in either solid or liquid form, ICP-MS equipment is the most precise analytical technique for evaluating total dissolved solids (TDS). Keep reading as you learn more about ICP MS instruments.

What is ICP-MS?


ICP-MS is an analytical technique that can be used to measure the composition of a sample. The technique is used in many fields, including environmental, medical, and geological science.


The first step in mass spectrometry is ionization. Ionization happens when a sample is bombarded with energetic electrons or ions that knock out one or more electrons from atoms or molecules to form ions.

The ionized molecules are then sorted by their mass-to-charge ratio and separated by their mobility after they pass through a series of electromagnetic fields.

Mass Spectrometer

After being ionized, the molecules are accelerated by an electric field into the mass spectrometer. They are separated according to their mass-to-charge ratio by passing through a vacuum chamber containing an electric field.

Mass spectrometers are instruments that separate molecules by their mass-to-charge ratio. The mass spectrometer is one of chemistry and biology most important analytical instruments.

In addition to being used to identify unknown compounds, mass spectrometers are also used to analyze the structure and purity of known compounds. A mass spectrometer consists of three main components: an ion source, a mass analyzer, and a detector.

What is ICP-MS Used For?


ICP-MS, or inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry, is a method for analyzing elements. It is the most widely used technology for determining the elemental composition of materials for trace metal analysis in various applications.
The device vaporizes a sample and then passes it through an electromagnetic field that separates its components based on their atomic mass. A mass spectrometer is used to identify the identification and concentration of the resultant ions. This approach may also determine the isotopic composition of elements such as carbon or nitrogen.

ICP-MS is utilized in a variety of disciplines, including:

  • Pharmaceuticals
  • The chemistry of food
  • Science of the environment
  • Forensics

How do I do ICP MS analysis?


The ICP MS instruments are very complex machines, and operating them requires a lot of experience. The following steps are recommended to ensure the best possible results:

  • Clean all surfaces thoroughly before starting the analysis.
  • Check that the detectors are aligned properly and do not have any dust or dirt on them.
  • Check that the calibration standards have been prepared correctly and are within their shelf life.
  • Check that there is no air in the sample loop. If air is in the loop, running a stable calibration curve with this sample will be impossible because air contains oxygen and can cause interference during analysis.
  • Ensure that your injector and detector windows are clean before each analysis. Otherwise, particles may interfere with detection by scattering light from the laser beam into the detector window or onto other parts of your instrument.
  • Check that all connections between your instrument and its accessories (e.g., flow cell, junction box) are properly installed.
  • Set your analytical conditions (e.g., wavelength, amperage, voltage, gas flow rate).

What Are Those Big and Obscure ICP-MS Symbols?

Without a doubt, those big and obscure characters can be confusing unless you know them. The first thing to understand is that each element has its unique symbol—like how letters are assigned to keys on a keyboard. For example, “He” is Helium, and “Ar” is Argon. So if you see an element listed as “Ar,” it means that Arsenic was found in your sample.
If you see an element listed as “Hg,” it means Mercury was found in your sample. But what about if there’s no letter at all? That means there wasn’t enough mercury in your sample for detection by this method or instrumentation.

A Brief Look at ICP-MS Apparatus and Instruments

The ICP-MS equipment can determine the concentration of an element or compound in a sample by detecting its presence. The apparatus utilizes a plasma torch as its source, exhibiting superior sensitivity compared to flame-based instruments and enhanced precision relative to laser-based instruments.

Before utilizing this apparatus, it is necessary to make arrangements for your specimen by placing it inside a crucible, a receptacle designed for this purpose. Subsequently, the crucible can be introduced into a furnace and subjected to high temperatures until it reaches a molten state.

ICP-MS instruments are very sensitive, highly accurate instruments with a steep learning curve. So be prepared for your first few ICP-MS runs to be difficult. However, you’ll likely find the benefits—such as high accuracy, low detection limits, and wide ranges—worth it in the long run.

Upon this event, it is necessary to transfer the liquefied substance to an alternative crucible to conduct an analysis using said apparatus.

Know More About ICP-MS Instruments


As you can see, ICP-MS instrumentation is not a new invention. However, its use has many benefits, and it continues to be incorporated more and more into analytical laboratories.

From routine analysis to precious metal analysis and measurements at trace levels, ICP-MS instruments have grown in popularity because they are practical in many cases. Take some time to explore the prospects to get the most out of your research!