Laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy


Dr. Maisarah Duralim

Laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) is a type of atomic emission spectroscopy which uses a highly energetic laser pulse as the excitation source. The laser is focused to form a plasma, which atomizes and excites samples. The formation of the plasma only begins when the focused laser achieves a certain threshold for optical breakdown, which generally depends on the environment and the target material. In principle, LIBS can analyze any matter regardless of its physical state, be it solid, liquid or gas. Because all elements emit light of characteristic frequencies when excited to sufficiently high temperatures, LIBS can (in principle) detect all elements, limited only by the power of the laser as well as the sensitivity and wavelength range of the spectrograph & detector. If the constituents of a material to be analyzed are known, LIBS may be used to evaluate the relative abundance of each constituent element or to monitor the presence of impurities. In practice, detection limits are a function of a) the plasma excitation temperature, b) the light collection window, and c) the line strength of the viewed transition. LIBS makes use of optical emission spectrometry and is to this extent very similar to arc/spark emission spectroscopy.

LIBS operates by focusing the laser onto a small area at the surface of the specimen; when the laser is discharged it ablates a very small amount of material, in the range of nanograms to picograms, which generates a plasma plume with temperatures in excess of 100,000 K. During data collection, typically after local thermodynamic equilibrium is established, plasma temperatures range from 5,000–20,000 K. At the high temperatures during the early plasma, the ablated material dissociates (breaks down) into excited ionic and atomic species. During this time, the plasma emits a continuum of radiation that does not contain any useful information about the species present, but within a very small timeframe, the plasma expands at supersonic velocities and cools. At this point, the characteristic atomic emission lines of the elements can be observed. The delay between the emission of continuum radiation and characteristic radiation is in the order of 10 μs, which is why it is necessary to temporarily gate the detector. LIBS is sometimes referred to as laser-induced plasma spectroscopy (LIPS); however, that acronym also has alternative meanings that are outside the field of analytical spectroscopy.