Velocities of particles passing through the load coil region of an inductively coupled plasma (ICP) attached to a quadrupole mass spectrometer (MS) were measured by particle image velocimetry (PIV). Particles were produced either by laser ablation (LA) of solid targets or from drying analyte-spiked microdroplets ejected by a piezoelectrically actuated quartz capillary. For instance, velocities determined under conditions typically applied to LA-ICP-MS analyses were found to range between 10 and 20 m s−1, depending on the axial position. Our data, furthermore, evidence significant changes of the gas velocity upon modifications of the ICP operating conditions such as plasma power, gas flow rate, and torch injector diameter if helium is admixed in excess of >50% of the total gas flow passing through the injector. For instance, an increase of the ICP RF power from 800 to 1600 W resulted in particle velocity gradients up to 15 m s−1 kW−1 measured after the third turn of the RF-coil. Temporal changes in velocity, i.e. particle accelerations over the axis of the load coil region were specified to 300–1000 m s−2. In addition, ICP-MS analyses of laser-produced aerosols carried out at constant volumetric flow rates but reduced injector diameters made signal intensities of elements such as Y, Ce, or U drop by up to two orders of magnitude suggesting incomplete particle evaporation as well as notably different aerosol penetration depths. Sensitivities measured in this case turned out to correlate with boiling points of the respective oxides rather than the element-specific ionization potentials commonly observed. The mechanisms controlling gas velocity and sensitivity variations are discussed and consequences on LA-ICP-MS analyses are drawn.
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