Spotlight: Spectrometry for the masses

Materials World magazine
5 Mar 2013

Mass spectrometry is finding wider applications in materials analysis.
Rachel Lawler looks at some of the new equipment available. 

Mass spectrometry was once a practice only seen in the laboratories of researchers and chemistry students. But with the increasing availability of powerful computers and rising demand for accuracy, spectrometers are finding new applications in more mainstream environments.

iPad users can now create mass spectral overviews of multiple fragmentation spectra using their tablets, thanks to a new app from Hiden Analytical. The MS spectral overlap evaluator acts as a reference tool for advanced researchers and those working in vacuum processing using real-time analysis systems. Users can identify mass peaks with least spectral interference using the app’s library of common gas and vapour species. The system is based on the Hiden QGA quantitative gas analysis system software, and can add up to 16 gas and vapour species for simulated analysis and display of mass peaks together with any spectral overlaps. This new tool is more portable than existing systems and incorporates spectrometry into a popular device. The app is available to download free of charge from the Apple app store. 

Another device making spectrometry more accessible is the Spectro xSort Handheld XRF Spectrometer by Analytical Instruments. The system provides non-destructive analysis of precious metals. The inexpensive instrument is able to identify the gold and silver content in many jewellery alloys within seconds. Traditionally, the precious metal content of alloys is determined using touchstone testing, but this procedure is destructive and reading the results requires the expertise of a trained operative. The level of destruction caused by this method means that jewellery is only suitable for recycling after testing. Customers must also be prepared to trust the operative’s interpretation of results. But using this new handheld spectrometer, both the customer and the operative can read the results, and the process does not damage the items. This will make recycling or selling unwanted jewellery quicker, cheaper and more reliable.  

Those working in mining exploration and production will also benefit from more portable and accessible spectrometry with Spectral Evolution’s benchtop reflectance probe. The device can be used for qualitative and quantitative analysis on-site and provides geologists and field researchers with handsfree measurement across the 350–2500nm spectral range. The probe can be used to identify minerals including iron oxide, selected rare earth element bearing minerals and carbonate group minerals. The probe can be used with the company’s small and lightweight spectrometers.  

These developments are making spectrometers more accessible to an expanding range of industries, and improving understanding of materials and their identification.  

Next month’s Spotlight is on testing and inspection