Analysis of Rare Earth Elements in Uranium Using Handheld Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy

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Breaking news: You can analyze concentrations of rare earth metals (REEs) with the SciAps Z-300 handheld LIBS.

In a just-released publication in Applied Spectroscopy, author Ben Manard and his Los Alamos National Laboratory colleagues use the SciAps Z-300 handheld LIBS to quantify levels of rare earth elements in a uranium oxide matrix. Los Alamos personnel need a method to perform rapid chemical analysis in a nuclear facility. In this example, the analysis was performed for europium (Eu), neodymium (Nd) and ytterbium (Yb) in both a uranium oxide and a glass matrix. Limits of detection for these elements in the uranium matrix were 130 ppm, 200 ppm and 320 ppm respectively for Yb, Eu and Nd.

Analysis of Rare Earth Elements in Uranium Using Handheld Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (HH LIBS)
Benjamin T. Manard, E. Miller Wylie, and Stephen P. Willson

Applied Spectroscopy

First Published May 22, 2018

A portable handheld laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (HH LIBS) instrument was evaluated as a rapid method to qualitatively analyze rare earth elements in a uranium oxide matrix. This research is motivated by the need for development of a method to perform rapid, at-line chemical analysis in a nuclear facility, particularly to provide a rapid first pass analysis to determine if additional actions or measurements are warranted. This will result in the minimization of handling and transport of radiological and nuclear material and subsequent exposure to their associated hazards. In this work, rare earth elements (Eu, Nd, and Yb) were quantitatively spiked into a uranium oxide powder and analyzed by the HH LIBS instrumentation. This method demonstrates the ability to rapidly identify elemental constituents in sub-percent levels in a uranium matrix. Preliminary limits of detection (LODs) were determined with values on the order of hundredths of a percent. Validity of this methodology was explored by employing a National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) standard reference materials (SRM) 610 and 612 (Trace Elements in Glass). It was determined that the HH LIBS method was able to clearly discern the rare earths elements of interest in the glass or uranium matrices.

Keywords Laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy, LIBS, handheld, HH, uranium analysis, nuclear materials

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About Applied Spectroscopy:
Applied Spectroscopy is one of the world’s leading spectroscopy journals, publishing high-quality peer-reviewed articles, both fundamental and applied, covering all aspects of spectroscopy. Established in 1951, the journal is owned by the Society for Applied Spectroscopy and is published monthly. The journal is dedicated to fulfilling the mission of the Society to “…advance and disseminate knowledge and information concerning the art and science of spectroscopy and other allied sciences.”

Why LIBS for REEs?

The other established handheld analysis technique is portable X-ray fluorescence (pXRF). However, rare earth elements are a particular challenge for pXRF. The K-shell emission lines for the rare earth elements range from low 40 keV to low 50 keV, meaning the excitation energies for these elements must be more than 60 keV preferably. In fact Yb would require an X-ray source at 70 keV or higher. The shielding and high voltage requirements would greatly limit portability of such a system. The L-shell emission lines for REEs are not an option either. While in the 5-10 keV range, they suffer from multiple interferences from commonly occurring elements including Fe, Cu, Zn and others. For these reasons handheld LIBS is a viable option.

Have an application?

We can run samples in our materials laboratory, or visit you with an analyzer for a brief feasibility study.

SciAps Academic Loaner logoCheck out our Academic LIBS Advancement Program

We frequently loan out HH LIBS units for a few weeks or a month to academic researchers, so that they can perform a study or field analysis. LIBS is often a preferred technique, especially for students, since operators do not have to deal with the regulatory complexities of X-ray fluorescence analyzers. Also, the Z-300 will measure every element in the periodic table – yes even hydrogen! And our accompanying Profile Builder software provides operators complete freedom to modify laser and spectrometer parameters and generate their own calibrations. You’re not limited to factory imposed calibrations or unchangeable multi-variant techniques.

How does it work?

Easy. Contact us ( with a brief description of what you want to measure. We’ll ask that you register and post a brief description on our Academic Community web page. As your work progresses, we’d appreciate continued updates when that’s possible. Don’t worry, we understand that you can’t compromise a future publication. We’ll get you the analyzer, train you at a regularly scheduled time (often via GoTo Meeting or Skype but in-person works too). The goal is to raise awareness of the amazing world of applications available to handheld LIBS.

Please note at this time we must limit the loaner program to researchers working at US and Canadian institutions. Researchers from these countries may travel globally with the analyzer though.

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