Enhanced techniques for the measurement of ultra-low level (pg and fg) actinide analysis by ICP-MS for forensic and geologic applications
Abstract:Recent advances in mass spectrometry have led to an improved ability to measure high precision isotope ratios at increasingly low analyte concentrations. Combining techniques for enhanced ionization with better counting of small ion beams, we routinely measure isotope ratios on 100’s of pg uranium samples and ≤10 pg plutonium samples with relative standard deviations of 1‰ on major isotope ratios and 10‰ on minor ratios achievable. With slightly larger samples (≤1 ng total U), these precisions can be as low as 0.01‰ (10 ppm) and 1‰ respectively. These techniques can be applied to both nuclear forensics questions where only a small amount of sample is available, as well as geologic questions such as U-Pb or U-Th disequilibrium geochronology from either single small crystals, or microsampled domains from within a heterogeneous sample. The analytical setup is a Cetac Aridus II desolvating nebulizer interfaced with a ThermoScientific Neptune Plus equipped with a jet-type sample cone and x-type skimmer cone. The combination of the desolvating nebulizer with the enhanced cone setup leads to an increase in sensitivity on the order of 10x that of a standard glass spray chamber (~1000V/ppm U). The Neptune Plus is equipped with 9 Faraday cups and 5 electron multipliers (two behind RPQ energy filters for improved abundance sensitivtiy). This allows for the simultaneous collection of all isotopes of either U or Pu with a combination of Faraday cups (e.g., 235U and 238U) and electron multipliers (e.g., 234U and 236U) with other configurations also available (e.g., 235U and 238U can instead be measured on electron multipliers in small samples).
As sample sizes get small, the contributions from environmental blanks, as well as interfering species, become increasing concerns. In this study, we will present data on efforts to minimize the contribution of environmental U using scaled down chemical procedures as well as the effect of polyatomic species on the precision and accuracy of actinide isotope measurements and what procedures can be applied to minimize interferences.