Laser Ablation Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS)

Laser Ablation Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS) is an analytical technique that uses direct micro-scale sampling to provide high precision elemental and stable isotope analyses of solid materials.

LA-ICP-MS uses a powerful nanosecond-pulsed laser beam to remove material from the surface of a sample. The interaction of the laser and the sample surface causes heating, evaporation and ionization of sample material, in a process called “laser ablation.” A plume of particles and ions is generated and then carried via a constant flow of argon and/or helium gas to an ICP-MS. The sample material is subsequently ionized in an inductively coupled plasma, and its atomic species are transported as ions, separated and analyzed based on their mass-to-charge ratio over time. LA-ICP-MS can therefore provide major and trace element compositions in a sample down to detection limits of 10’s of parts-per-billion (ppb).

LA-ICP-MS is considered extremely versatile, as the analyses can be performed on many solid materials without any preparation. Depending on the analytical measurement system, very small sample quantities (picograms to femtograms) may be sufficient for highly sensitive (parts per billion) survey analysis. Traditional liquid approaches for ICP-MS require milligrams of sample mass in order to be achieve this sensitivity. A range of laser spot diameters (5-200 µm) is available, allowing for spot and line sampling arrays over a maximum surface area of 10 cm2.

Ideal Uses of LA-ICP-MS

  • Survey chemical analysis of solids
  • Traceability analysis
  • Elemental or stable isotope distribution analysis and mapping
  • Local inclusion and defect analysis
  • Depth specific multi-element chemical assay


  • Direct elemental analysis of most solid materials, independent of electrical conductivity or geometry
  •  Analysis without pre-preparation 
  • Spatial distribution analysis/mapping


  • Matrix-matched reference materials must be analyzed alongside samples for fully quantitative analysis 

LA-ICP-MS Technical Specifications

  • Species Detected: positive ions of stable isotopes
  • Sensitivity: parts per billion (ppbw)
  • Depth Resolution: 0.1 – 1 μm
  • Typical Spot Size: 5 – 200 μm

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