ICP Fundamentals Video

ICP-OES Explained: Revealing the Sample’s Secrets

As indicated by its name, Inductively Coupled Plasma Optical Emission Spectroscopy (ICP-OES or ICP-AES) is a technique that uses a plasma as a source and relies on optical emission for analysis. However, unlike many other spectrometers, the sample is not simply placed in-between source and detector. ICP-OES is mainly used for liquid samples, which first need to be turned into an aerosol (“nebulization”) and then are injected into the plasma. Solid samples can be directly analyzed if a means of vaporization is available, e.g., laser ablation (LA-ICP-OES) or electrothermic vaporization (ETV). The high temperatures in the plasma are sufficient to break down the sample into atoms and provide the energy for ionization and excitation.

For practical analysis with OES, several essential components must be provided:
- An energy source to atomize the test sample and excite the atoms
- A sampling system to introduce the sample into the plasma
- High resolution optics to observe the emissions from the plasma and to separate and isolate the specific emitted wavelengths for the elements to be measured
- A detector system to measure the intensity of the light emissions
- Electronics to acquire the detector signals and to control the functions of the spectrometer
- A computer with software for calculation and display of emission spectra and concentration values

Inductively Coupled Plasma Optical Emission Spectroscopy (ICP-OES) has become the leading technology for routine analysis of liquid samples as well as materials that can be easily turned into a liquid form by dissolution or digestion. Its origin lies in so-called spectroscopes and spectrographs that allow visual evaluation of spectral lines on a film, which required much experience and time in order to obtain reliable results. The developments in electronics and data processing allowed ICP instruments to appear on the market in the middle of the 1970s which helped overcome these obstacles and enable the routine use of optical emission spectroscopy in laboratories.

During the last decades, ICP-OES has seen dramatic improvement. While the first commercially available ICP machines relied on time consuming sequential measurements or had limited availability of emission lines due to the use of Photomultiplier Tubes (PMT), today's ICP instruments are able to capture wide spectral areas simultaneously in a short time thanks to modern solid state detector technology.

This ICP-OES principle video presents an easy-to-understand introduction into the physics and the technology of an optical emission spectrometer with regards to ICP analysis. You can find more detailed information by requesting the featured whitepapers below.
ICP-OES Instruments


  • One instrument instead of two: Only MultiView plasma instrument in the market ‒ true axial AND true radial plasma observation in a single instrument
  • ORCA Optical System: Simultaneous spectrum capture in the 130-770 nm wavelength range with up to 5x more sensitivity than Echelle based systems - delivers best in class performance in the UV/VUV range
  • LDMOS Generator: Up to 2000 W power and robust enough to handle volatile organics and high dissolved solids with ease

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  • New revolutionary Dual Side-On Interface (DSOI) technology that achieves twice the sensitivity of conventional radial-plasma-view instruments
  • New GigE readout system that enables spectra transport in less than 100 ms for faster analysis speeds, shorter sample-to-sample times, and more samples per hour
  • Extremely agile, LDMOS generator that makes external cooling unnecessary: analyze difficult sample matrices in lower dilutions to lower limits of detection — faster warmup (~10 minutes) for higher productivity
  • New SPECTRO ICP Analyzer Pro operating software delivers a simply intuitive ease-of-use

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  • Powerful alternative to sequential ICP and FAA: simultaneous spectrum capture in the 175-770 nm wavelength range with the capability to analyze up to 700 samples per day
  • Low operating costs: minimal 0.5 l/min optic purge, no water chiller necessary
  • Faster out of the gate: less than 10 minutes warmup time (previously over 30) with the new LDMOS generator

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Application Notes and WhitePaper

Comparing ICP-OES Analyzers Plasma Views: Axial, Radial, Dual, MultiView, and New Dual Side-On Interface

The paper explains how each technique works and why understanding the plasma-viewing interface should be a major factor in the selection of the best technology and instrument for your laboratory or specific area of research.


Ten Reasons You Need a Next-Generation ICP-OES for Routine Analyses 

This paper outlines ten benefits this kind of improved ICP-OES technology can deliver. Its advantages include smaller footprint; troublefree cooling; greater power; no gas purging; superior optics; full gas control; next-generation detectors; no-hassle dual-view; reduced matrix effects; and more.

Which ICP-OES optical technology offers superior performance: Echelle or ORCA?

This paper explains the fundamental differences between the two leading optical designs and discusses how each technology deals with technical challenges such as light loss, stray light, spectral order overlaps, and others. The paper also explains how each can potentially affect the outcome of various analyses.

Today´s Relevance of Elemental Analysis

Elemental analysis plays an important role in many aspects of life today

Industries producing or processing raw materials require reliable quality control of both their base materials and their finished products, and in many cases
also use spectral analysis instruments for monitoring their processes. Research and development departments require flexible analytical techniques to
handle their constantly changing requirements. Additionally, waste and waste water also need to be checked for compliance with national regulations before
being deposited or released into the environment.

The oil industry uses elemental analysis not only to monitor the production of their fuels, oils and additives themselves, but also to study the effectiveness of
their products by analyzing wear metal content and additive consumption in used oils. The latter is also of high interest for people and companies who
monitor the health of their well-oiled machines, e.g., turbines for energy production or motors in cargo ships and other large vehicles.

In agriculture, elemental analysis is commonly used for verifying the state of the soil in order to determine both type and amount of fertilizer required for
improving quality and yield of the harvest. The finished food products themselves need to be checked for toxic elements, too. Other healthcare related
applications include the monitoring of drinking water, analyzing toxic elements in medical products and examining the release of toxic metals and metallic
allergens from toys and clothing.

More information can be found on the SPECTRO ICP-OES Overview page (see tab "ICP-OES Fundamentals")