National Water Quality Laboratory

Friday October 19, 2018

USGS Open-File Report 97-382

Methods of Analysis by the U.S. Geological Survey National Water Quality Laboratory — Use of Modified Ultrasonic Nebulizer for the Analysis of Low Ionic-Strength Water by Inductively Coupled Optical Emission Spectrometry

Carl M. Harris, Charles J. Litteral, and Donna L. Damrau


The U.S. Geological Survey National Water Quality Laboratory has developed a method for the determination of dissolved calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, silica, and sodium using a modified ultrasonic nebulizer sample-introduction system to an inductively coupled plasma-optical emission spectrometer. The nebulizer's spray chamber has been modified to avoid carryover and memory effects common in some conventional ultrasonic designs. The modified ultrasonic nebulizer is equipped with a high-speed rinse cycle to remove previously analyzed samples from the spray chamber without excessive flush times. This new rinse cycle decreases sample washout times by reducing carryover and memory effects from salt or analytes in previously analyzed samples by as much as 45 percent. Plasma instability has been reduced by repositioning the argon carrier gas inlet on the spray chamber and by directly pumping waste from the chamber, instead of from open drain traps, thereby maintaining constant pressure to the plasma. The ultrasonic nebulizer improves signal intensities, which are 8 to 16 times greater than for a conventional cross-flow pneumatic nebulizer, without being sensitive to clogging from salt buildup as in cross-flow nebulizers. Detection limits for the ultrasonic nebulizer are 4 to 18 times less than detection limits achievable using a cross-flow pneumatic nebulizer, with equivalent sample analysis time.

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