Plants and other biota

We can perform elemental analyses on plant samples, including forage vegetation, and crops from root vegetables through to wheat, rice and maize grains. Analysis of plant materials is not covered under the scope of ISO 17025 accreditation.

Trace and major elements capability

The facility has three inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) instruments: an Agilent 8900 Triple Quadrupole, an Agilent 7500 and a Spectro Array ICP-MS.

We have capability for:

  • high-throughput, survey-scale analyses of 57 elements, plus iodine using a TMAH extraction
  • isotope ratio analyses for uranium (e.g. DU) and lead (provenancing)
  • solid sampling on a microsscale using laser ablation ICP-MS

The ability to determine mercury in a wide variety of biological material such as plants or tissue directly, without time-consuming chemical preparation, is provided by a Milestone DMA-80 Atomic Absorption Spectrometer.

Spatially resolved analysis

It is frequently advantageous to know the location of elements within a biological structure at a microscale, for example to differentiate uptake into plant roots, stem or leaf. Laser ablation coupled with ICP-MS can provide this. The hard parts of aquatic biota grow on a seasonal or even daily basis in a manner analogous to tree rings, thus providing 'tape recorders' of environmental change. The laboratories have two decades of experience of applying laser ablation to corals, shells (bivalves) and fish earbones (otoliths).

Gamma-emitting isotopes capability

Natural daughter products from uranium and thorium decay, such as 210Pb, may be used as environmental tracers. Certain artificial isotopes may be found in our environment or industrial processes due to past nuclear releases, i.e. 137Cs from atmospheric bomb tests or 60Co from steel irradiation. Some of these may be measured using our Canberra Broad Energy germanium gamma spectrometers.


Please contact Michael Watts, Charles Gowing or Simon Chenery for further information.