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Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometry

Mass Spectrometry

  1. H. Roy Krouse

Published Online: 15 SEP 2006

DOI: 10.1002/9780470027318.a6011

Encyclopedia of Analytical Chemistry

Encyclopedia of Analytical Chemistry

How to Cite

Krouse, H. R. 2006. Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometry. Encyclopedia of Analytical Chemistry. .

Author Information

  1. University of Calgary, Canada

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 SEP 2006


With the separation of two of the three stable isotopes of neon by Sir J.J. Thomson in 1913, mass spectrometers have continued to be the instrument of choice for measuring ratios of isotope abundances. The first magnetic sector mass spectrometer specifically dedicated to this task was designed by A.O. Nier in 1947 and featured simultaneous collection of ion currents. Many diverse instruments have evolved from this design. Decades of development of sample preparation techniques have realized isotope ratio data from many elements in solids, liquids, and gases. Coupling of devices such as gas chromatographs, combustion apparati, and laser probes to mass spectrometers in concert with computer control, have realized features such as unattended operation, compound-specific isotope analyses and isotopic data spatially resolved over distances of a few micrometers on solid surfaces.

Today, applications of isotope ratio mass spectrometry (IRMS) embrace many disciplines with topics such as paleodiets, food adulteration, paleoclimatology, migration of birds and animals, pollutant tracing, ore and oil deposits, meteorology, energy expenditure of animals, including astronauts, and the origin of the universe.