Innovation and Partnerships Office

Real Time High Throughput Isotopic Measurements JIB-2901


  • Defense / homeland security, nuclear forensics
  • Nuclear industry
  • Environmental monitoring
  • Medical (isotope markers/tracers)
  • Oil and mineral logging
  • Space exploration
  • Any scientific research involving the tracking of isotopic labels, as in:
    • Solar power
    • Scintillators (deuterated, 10B, 6Li, 3He)
    • Batteries (doping)
    • Geochemistry
    • Climatology


  • Integrated elemental and isotopic measurements
  • Rapid, direct, and high throughput: no sample preparation
  • Analysis in ambient environment; no vacuum or inert-gas chamber required
  • High spatial 3D resolution within sample (nm – µm)
  • Applicable from a distance; open-path, stand-off capabilities
  • Field-portable, compact
  • Allows increased monitoring, surveillance, diagnostics


Rick Russo and colleagues at Berkeley Lab and Applied Spectra have developed a high throughput, real time, sensitive method to identify and quantify isotopes and their ratios in any sample under ambient conditions. The method, Laser Ablation Molecular Isotopic Spectrometry (LAMIS), can be used in a laboratory or field instrument, and applied remotely. Samples of various sizes, from hundreds of nanometers to bulk can be analyzed. Because LAMIS requires no sample preparation, it requires no consumables and produces no waste products. LAMIS provides real time elemental and isotopic analysis, allowing increased monitoring, even in an on line process control application.

The method works by using a pulsed laser beam to convert a tiny fraction of the sample to an optical plasma. The molecular emission spectra are analyzed to determine the relative concentration of each isotope in the sample. Because the laser can be directed at a very fine point, the spatial resolution of elemental and isotope measurements can be as good as 400-500 nm. Larger micron to millimeter spatial sampling and analysis is more easily achieved. Significantly, the laser creates the plasma directly from any sample, eliminating the need for sample preparation such as acid digestion.

The advantages of LAMIS over other state-of-the-art analytical optical spectroscopy methods stem from its measurement of molecular rather than atomic isotope shifts. The molecular isotope shifts can be orders of magnitude greater than atomic isotope shifts, alleviating the need for cumbersome and expensive vacuum conditions, sample chambers of inert gases, and spectrometers with very high resolution. The scientists demonstrated that by applying LAMIS to a boron-containing sample, they could easily discriminate spectra from10B and 11B and accurately calculate their ratio. Similar measurements have been demonstrated for many other isotope ratios.

Until recently isotopic analysis has been performed by mass spectrometry (MS) and other techniques that generally require: sizeable equipment footprints, vacuum chambers; large sample sizes (milligrams or grams); extensive sample preparation; radioisotope counting; and/or sample enclosure in an inert gas chamber. The LAMIS method circumvents these requirements to provide a high-throughput, sensitive analysis that can be used in the lab or field.

DEVELOPMENT STAGE: Bench scale prototype.

STATUS: Patent pending. Available for licensing or collaborative research.


Mao, X., Bol’shakov, A.A., Choi, I., McKay, C.P., Perry, D.L., Sorkhabi, O., Russo, R.E. “Laser Ablation Molecular Isotopic Spectrometry: Strontium and its isotopes,” Spectrochimica Acta Part B. 66; 767-775 (2011).

Mao, X., Bol’shakov, A.A., Perry, D.L., Sorkhabi, O., Russo, R.E. “Laser Ablation Molecular Isotopic Spectrometry: Parameter influence on boron isotope measurements,” Spectrochimica Acta Part B. 66; 604-609 (2011).

Russo, R.E., Bol’shakov, A.A., Mao, X., McKay, C.P., Perry, D.L., Sorkhabi, O. “Laser Ablation Molecular Isotopic Spectrometry,” Spectrochimica Acta Part B. 66; 99-104 (2011).


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