LIBS targeted for 21st-century geoscience

Diggity Geochemistry, Independent Studies, LIBS, REE and Strategic Metals

Publication: Richard J. Sima. “Lasers Have the Makings of a 21st-Century Geoscience Tool,” Eos 102, 15 October 2021.


Lewis Owen of North Carolina State University is using the SciAps Z-300 handheld LIBS instrument to analyze rock varnish on granite boulders in the Alabama Hills of east central California. Credit: Harmon and Senesi, 2021.

In a recent AGU article, Richard Sima discusses the potential of LIBS for illuminating the geosciences. From the three instruments on the Mars rovers to the handheld LIBS used for fieldwork on Earth, Sima discusses the benefits and limitations of the versatile instrument.

Dr. Russell Harmon, who has been working with laboratory LIBS for over 20 years and SciAps handheld LIBS since 2015, shares his thoughts about the “geochemical tool for the 21st century.”

Recently, Harmon and Dr. Lewis Owen (pictured) of North Carolina State University used the SciAps Z-300 LIBS to analyze rock varnish on granite boulders in the Alabama Hills of east central California. Novel applications like this one, where the LIBS detected and identified elements, performed micro-chemical mapping and subsurface compositional profiling, are just the beginning for handheld LIBS.


Summary: Laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy is a versatile geochemical tool being used in a wide range of applications, from Mars rovers to earthly rock identification. Because LIBS can capture the entire elemental composition of a sample, it is a versatile technique that can be readily applied in many different scientific domains. It is capable of quantitative and qualitative analysis of the elemental composition of materials such as rocks, minerals, metals, sediments, soils, archaeological artifacts, gases, liquids, explosives, and beyond. It’s also useful both in the laboratory and in the field, on Earth or off it.

Keywords: cool tools, Earth science, geochemistry, lasers, spectroscopy

Access to publication: https://doi.org/10.1029/2021EO210544

About this magazine: Eos is the science news magazine published by AGU.

 More novel applications for handheld LIBS

LIBS test method for fluorine in food packaging
SciAps senior scientist Brendan Connors used LIBS to analyze the presence of fluorine as a marker for the potential presence of PFAS in popular food packaging. Handheld LIBS analyzers have expanded potential for in situ elemental analysis. They allow for rapid screening and quantification of any element in almost any matrix type.

Analyses of Li-rich minerals using handheld LIBS
Researchers used SciAps Z-300 LIBS to provide over 4,000 spectra on lithium-content materials, including minerals, powder pellets, and rocks. High resolution spectrometers combined with low detection limits for light elements make handheld LIBS a powerful option to detect critical elements.

Screening for Conflict Minerals: Columbite-Tantalite and Beyond
Need a way to identify “conflict minerals”? LIBS can provide the geographic source for the raw materials needed for components of consumer electronics. The information helps companies and their customers understand whether their purchasing decisions are supporting conflicts in war zones.

Analysis of Rare Earth Elements in Uranium Using Handheld LIBS
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.

Did you know?

SciAps CTO Dave Day contributed a chapter to the definitive guide on handheld LIBS technology in a volume published by Wiley (2021).

“It has been exciting over the last several years to see handheld LIBS come of age and become such a useful product now applied across such a wide variety of markets,” Day says. “It is an honor for me to have been in a position to help make that happen and be invited to document it in this book chapter.”

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