Specialist analyses

The laboratories can analyse a wide range of samples, including but not exclusive to:

  • biomonitoring samples (toenails, urine, hair)
  • ecological samples (earthworms, coral, otoliths, fish, feathers)
  • archaeological samples (glass, pottery)
  • geophagy samples

For solutions, low-volume pore waters (spun or squeezed), saline and hyper-alkaline solutions are used.

Trace and major elements capability

The facility has two inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) instruments, one Agilent 7500 (UKAS accredited for aqueous samples to ISO 17025) and a Spectro Array ICP-MS.

We have capability for:

  • high throughput survey scale analyses of 55 elements, plus iodine using a TMAH matrix
  • low volume analyses (< 5ml, including IC, pH/Alk, NPOC)
  • elemental speciation of arsenic, chromium and selenium using high performance liquid chromatography ICP-MS
  • isotope ratio analyses for uranium (e.g. DU) and lead (provenancing)

In addition, we have one inductively coupled plasma atomic emission spectroscopy (ICP-AES) instrument for high total dissolved solids solutions.

Gamma emitting isotopes capability

Natural daughter products from uranium and thorium decay, such as 210Pb, may be used as environmental tracers. Occasionally anthropogenic processes such as oil or gas extraction may pre-concentrate these to hazardous levels i.e. radium in barium sulphate-rich brines. Some of these may be measured using our Canberra Broad Energy germanium gamma spectrometers.

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.

Micro-scale analyses

Laser ablation ICP-MS for is available for spatial and micro analyses of individual minerals as well as solid or fluid inclusions etc. We would normally couple this with scanning electron microscopy with energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (SEM-EDX) analysis of thin sections or polished blocks.

Laser ablation ICP-MS is also available for spatial and micro-analyses of both ecological samples (e.g. sea coral, otolith — fish ear bones) or archaeological samples where either growth structures or chemistry may by on the scale of tens of microns.

Experimental design

We provide advice on sampling strategy for field collections or experimental design and optimal analytical methodology.


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