Awareness and need for testing of materials existed even in ancient times and has grown keeping its pace with the growth of human civilization. Today you cannot imagine any man-made product be it a machine tool, glass decorative item, food product, pharmaceutical, plastic ware or for that matter any other product which has not undergone quality control using analytical techniques at some stage of its manufacture. Even our natural resources such as water, air, food grains, fruits and vegetables are certified for human consumption after undergoing laboratory testing.
Analysis of trace metals gained significance on the onset of age of metals. Even in those times it was common knowledge that composition of alloys has a bearing on properties of metals to be used for development of weapons for warfare, hunting, implements, storage of foods and drinking water. Efficacy of herbal medicines based on ancient systems such as Ayurveda, Unani and Siddha is dependent on the presence of trace metals or their oxides in correct amounts. An excess of such components could be disastrous to the consumer.
Several analytical techniques have been applied for detection and quantitative estimation of trace metals in different types of matrices. Classical techniques based on gravimetric and titrimetry provided good accuracy but were time-consuming. Increasing demand for high speed analysis led to the introduction of instrumental methods such as Ion selective electrodes, UV-VIS spectroscopic techniques, Atomic Absorption Spectroscopy, ICP – OES and ICP – MS. The choice of technique depends on the required detection levels, available sample quantity and most important available budget. The topic is covered to some extent in the article which elemental analysis technique is right for me.
Atomic Absorption Spectroscopy is a moderately priced instrumental analysis technique which provides a high degree of accuracy and precision of results. Due to its high analysis throughput it finds its rightful place in university laboratories, pollution control laboratories and industrial quality control laboratories. The present article highlights some areas where an awareness of working of an Atomic Absorption Spectrometer will prove to be an asset in enhancing your professional growth.In case you are engaged in any of the activities or areas discussed in the article or wish to land into such areas you will stand to gain through upgradation of your knowledge and technical skills on this technique.
Mining and Geology
The elemental composition of minerals and rocks provides valuable information on the commercial feasibility of conducting mining activities in areas explored. After mining the ores and minerals need to be tested for composition for efficiency of refining operations. Similarly trace metal analysis is of great value in prospecting for oil and water deposits.
Gemstones are also graded on the basis of presence of certain trace metals. Elemental composition of archaeological artefacts is helpful for tracing their source.
Environmental monitoring for trace metal contamination of industrial effluents, oceans, rivers and lakes is important for establishing safety of water for drinking and commercial use. It is important to establish if such samples are within the safety limits set by regulatory bodies. Environmental monitoring also plays a significant role in evaluation and feasibility of site for setting up commercial projects.
Common properties of materials such as hardness, brittleness, grain size, crystalinity and amorphous nature are significantly influenced by composition and trace metals. Trace metal analysis can provide useful information on performance properties of such materials.
Trace metal analysis plays an important role in formulation development, catalyst efficiency and dosage limits. Most elements have beneficial role up to certain prescribed limits but beyond such limits the effects are harmful.
Foods and Beverages
In synthetic processed foods metal pickup takes place due to contact with processing equipment and catalytic conversions. Consumer awareness on food safety is increasing by the day so manufacturers have to ensure that the trace metals do not exceed the permissible limits and this requires rigorous quality control through atomic absorption spectroscopy and other sophisticated instruments.
Oil and Petroleum
Both edible oils and mineral oils require refining before consumption. Such refining operation can involve distillation as well as catalytic refining. Uptake of metals during such operations can lead to deterioration of performance or consumer hazards. Trace metal analysis of engine oil provides useful diagnostic information on the wear and tear of engine parts.
Trace metal constitution of soils in addition to their acidic or basic nature is essential to establish their productivity and nutrient value. Trace metal composition of plants (leaves, stems and roots) gives a fair idea on how the uptake of minerals gets distributed under different growth conditions
Trace metal analysis provides valuable information on specimens such as stomach contents for food poisoning, paint chips, fibers and hair strands collected from scene of crime.
The scope of Atomic Absorption Spectroscopy is virtually unlimited as scope of application areas expands further. In an article of such length it is almost impossible to cover all. However, a basic understanding of the technique will give you a greater insight into such applications and also enhance your career prospects in your chosen field.