Inductively coupled plasma atomic emission spectroscopy (ICP-AES)

Thermo iCap 6500 Duo

Argon plasma torch

An argon plasma torch


Key facts

Technique: inductively coupled plasma atomic emission spectroscopy (ICP-AES)

Solution volumes required for analysis: 5-10ml, depending on the application 

Detection limits: from hundreds of parts per billion (ppb) to one ppb

Elements routinely determined: Al, As, Ba, Ca, Cd, Ce, Co, Cr, Cu, Fe, K, La, Li, Mg, Mn, Mo, Na, Ni, P, Pb, Rb, S, Sc, Si, Sr, Ti, V, Y, Zn, Zr

Inductively coupled plasma atomic emission spectroscopy (ICP-AES) is routinely used to analyse major, minor and some trace elements in digests of rocks, minerals, organic and man-made materials, experimental solutions, and fluids.

How it works

  • An inductively coupled plasma (ICP) is used to produce excited atoms from a sample. These emit electromagnetic radiation at wavelengths characteristic of a particular element.
  • A spectrometer separates and resolves these lines and measures their strength.


  • Analysis of waters from sewage treatment plants.
  • Chemical analysis of meteorites and lunar rocks (10.1111/j.1945-5100.2010.01165.x).
  • Investigation of the potential reuse of incinerated waste.
  • Quantification of silicon content in plants (10.1039/C1AY05144J).
  • Study of elemental tracers in biological samples.
  • Detection of platinum-group elements in industrial samples.

Museum lead

Dr Emma Humphreys-Williams, Analytical Chemist