ICP-MS Laboratory

The MTSU Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS) lab was funded by a $122,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. The lab provides analytical training and research opportunities for undergraduate geoscience majors. The lab also is used to reinforce course learning objectives in MTSU undergraduate mineralogy, petrology and geochemistry courses. Undergraduates enrolled in introductory Earth science and introductory geology courses also use the lab to complete exercises addressing the scientific method and drinking water quality.

The ICP-MS lab is available for use by professors and students from all MTSU science departments, as well as non-MTSU users. Along with the Department of Geoscience X-ray fluorescence lab, the ICP-MS lab offers a wide range of analytical capabilities. Both labs are staffed by Dep. of Geoscience faculty and students. All analytical expenses must be covered by each user. For more information on user fees, please contact Dr. Warner Cribb.

What is ICPMS?

ICP-MS is an anlytical method capable of rapidly measuring the concentrations of almost all chemical elements in any geologic sample. ICPMS accomplishes this by counting the number of ions at a certain mass of the element. Standards are analyzed to generate a calibration curve and the signals from unknown samples are compared against the calibration curve to determine the concentration of each metal in the sample. ICP-MS can measure as many as 35 elements in a single sample in as little as three minutes. Detection limits for almost all isotopes are at the parts-per-billion level.

The ICP-MS consists of the following parts:

  • Sample introduction system – consists of the peristaltic pump, nebulizer, and spray chamber and provides the means of getting samples into the instrument
  • ICP torch – generates the plasma which serves as the ion source of the ICP-MS, converting the analyte atoms to ions
  • Interface – links the atmospheric pressure ICP ion source and the high vacuum mass spectrometer
  • Vacuum system – provides high vacuum for ion optics, quadrupole, and detector
  • Lens – focuses ions into a beam for transmission into the quadrupole
  • Quadrupole – acts as a mass filter to sort ions by their mass to- charge ratio (m/z)
  • Detector – counts individual ions passing through the quadrupole data handling and system
  • Controller – controls all aspects of instrument control and data handling to obtain final concentration results

Diagram courtesy of PerkinElmer

Laboratory Facilities

PerkinElmer ELAN 9000 ICP-MS   
Anton Paar Microwave Digestion System
Sample Preparation Laboratory 
Sample Preparation Laboratory

Current Student Projects involving ICP-MS

  • Development of new ICPMS sample preparation method for digestion of lithium-borate glass in aqua-regia acid
  • Investigation of toxic metal concentrations in Tennessee Copper Basin stream sediments
  • Mechanisms of formation and chemical evolution of magmas in the central and northern Oregon Cascade Range
  • Distributions, Concentrations, and Transport Processes of Toxic Metals Released from TVA Coal-Ash Surface Impoundments into Public Waterways and River Sediments
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Faculty Spotlight

 Mt. Hood

Click the image above to see a larger version.

Dr. Warner Cribb’s research focuses on the geologic history of the solid Earth, with particular emphasis on the growth of continental crust in volcanic mountain belts. Most of Dr. Cribb’s students research the formation and chemical evolution of magmas that form volcanoes in the Cascade Range of Oregon and Washington. Their research goal is to improve the understanding of how molten rock beneath volcanoes forms, and how the chemical and physical properties of the molten rock change as it travels through Earth’s crust towards the surface.

Student research involves conducting fieldwork in the spectacular Cascade Range to collect rock samples at volcanoes, and then conducting geochemical and mineralogical analyses of the samples in labs at MTSU. Dr. Cribb’s students learn useful skills through their research, such as how to conduct geologic sample collection, how to geochemically analyze rock and mineral samples, and how to interpret and model geochemical data.

Most of Dr. Cribb’s students present their research results at national scientific conferences. Many of his students have been awarded full graduate assistantships and fellowships to attend some of the best geology graduate research programs in the country, such as at Notre Dame University, Vanderbilt University, Baylor University, The University of Oklahoma, and the University of Utah. After earning their M.S. or Ph.D. degrees, these students find employment in a range of geoscience employment sectors, such as mining, oil and gas exploration, advanced materials research, environmental consulting, and education.