Analyzing the Elements

Montclair State researchers now have access to a powerful new tool to help them detect and analyze the presence of trace amounts of metals in everything from storm water to samples from the Antarctic Ice Sheet.

With a grant award from the National Science Foundation Major Research Instrumentation Program, University researchers purchased a Thermo ICAP Qc Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometer (ICP MS). This new analytical instrument, which replaces a 12-year-old instrument, will enhance research and hands-on education activities in geoscience, environmental science, biology, archaeology and chemistry.

Photo of Xiaona Li.
Xiaona Li with the new analytical instrument

The new instrument is impressively powerful, according to lead principal investigator (PI) Xiaona Li, an earth and environmental studies analytical instrumentation specialist, who is working on the ICP MS aquisition project with co-PIs Department Chair Stefanie Brachfeld and faculty Yang Deng and Sandra Passchier.

“You can basically detect every single element in the periodic table all at once, ranging from the lower parts per trillion level to the higher parts per million level,” she explains. “It’s more powerful in terms of how low we can detect certain elements.”

The new instrument will support ongoing research funded by the National Science Foundation, Department of the Interior, New Jersey Sea Grant and other state and federal agencies, including projects examining the geochemical records of climate change currently conducted by Li, Brachfeld and Passchier. Deng and his doctoral students are engaged in research projects focused on environmental contamination, waste recycling and environmental remediation problems that will rely on the new instrument for metal analysis and speciation.

“I used it to measure lead, copper and zinc in synthesized urban runoff,” says doctoral student Hanieh Soleimanifar. “It’s essential to my research.”