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A Preview of the 4th Edition of Practical Guide to ICP-MS and Other Atomic Spectroscopy Techniques

By Robert Thomas

Published: Aug 22, 2023   
Cannabis material in vial, up close.

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I’m very excited to announce the availability of the 4th edition of my book, “Practical Guide to ICP-MS and Other AS Techniques: A Tutorial for Beginners”. My publisher (CRC Press/Routledge/Taylor & Francis) will begin taking pre orders on September 8th with a 20% introductory discount.

This was a major undertaking for me because the previous edition of the book came out in 2014 and my publisher has been bugging me for the past couple of years to come out with a new edition. I had resisted, because I had been heavily involved in writing two other books on elemental impurities in pharmaceuticals and heavy metals in cannabis and hemp. In addition, I had committed to writing columns for a number of spectroscopy journals and cannabis magazines to educate their readers on the benefits of inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) and, in particular, its role in the measurement of heavy metals contaminants in consumer products. As a result, I just didn’t have the bandwidth or the time to undertake another book project. However, book publishers can be very persuasive (increasing royalties definitely helps) and a year ago I committed to writing a brand-new edition for publication in the summer of 2023.

Twenty years in the making

Anyway, I cannot believe it has been almost 20 years since I published the first edition of this textbook in 2004, and nine years since the 3rd edition was launched in 2014. What was originally intended as a series of ICP-MS tutori­als on the basic principles for Spectroscopy Magazine in 2001 quickly grew into a textbook focusing on the practical side of the technique. With over 6,000 copies sold, including a Chinese (Mandarin) edi­tion, I’m very honored that the book has gained the reputation of being the reference book of choice for beginners to the technique all over the world. Sales have exceeded my wildest expectations. Of course, it helps when it is “recommended reading” for a Pittsburgh Conference (PittCon) ICP-MS Short Course I teach every year on “How to Select an ICP-MS”. It also helps when you get the visibility of your book being displayed at a bunch of different vendors’ booths at PittCon every year, together with numerous cannabis testing conferences. But there is no question in my mind that the major reason for its success is that it presents ICP-MS in a way that is very easy to understand for novices, and also shows the practical benefits of the technique for carrying out routine trace element analysis.

Application landscape

During the time the book has been in print, the application landscape has slowly changed. When the technique was first commercialized in 1983, it was mainly the environmental and geological communities that were the first to realize its benefits. Then, as its capabilities became better known, and its performance improved, other application areas like clinical, toxicological and semicon­ductor markets embraced the technique. Today, ICP-MS, with all its performance and productiv­ity enhancement tools, is the most dominant trace element technique, and besides the traditional application fields mentioned, it is now being utilized in other exciting areas including nanopar­ticle research, oil exploration, pharmaceutical manufacturing and, most recently, for pharmaceutical and cannabis and hemp testing labs. As a result, with a street price tag for a single quadrupole-based ICP-MS on the order of $120,000-150,000, it is being purchased for applications that were previously being carried out by inductively coupled plasm optical emission spectrometry (ICP-OES) and atomic absorption/fluorescence (AA/AV). It is truly an exciting time for users of the ICP-MS technique, but it also means that the other suitable techniques, which are often overlooked, now have lower price tags that make them a lot more attractive for labs with a limited budget, less demanding detection limit requirements, or with lower sample throughput demands.

Complimentary techniques

However, eight years is a long time for a book to remain current, even though sales of the book actu­ally increased during covid. But these were unusual times. So, even though the covid-19 pandemic impacted the timing of a 4th edition of the book, the trace element using community was probably using the time to broaden its knowledge by investing in educational resources. For that reason, it made sense to not only write an updated version to represent the current state of the technology and applica­tions being carried out, but also to incorporate all the great feedback I received from users and vendors over the past few years. And one of the most common requests was to expand the book beyond ICP-MS and include other AS techniques. So, with that as background, this edition is a little different. It will of course have comprehensive chapters on the fundamental principles of ICP-MS that have been covered in previous editions of the book. However, it will also include other AS techniques that are complementary to ICP-MS, such as flame and graphite furnace atomic absorption (FAAS/GFAAS), atomic fluorescence (AF), inductively-coupled plasma optical emission spectrometry (ICP-OES), microwave-induced plasma atomic emission spectrometry (MIP-AES), X-ray fluorescence (XRF), laser induced breakdown spectrometry (LIBS) and laser ablation, laser ionization time-of-flight mass spectrometry (LALI-TOF-MS). However, the target audience will predominantly be new users, who want to better understand the basics and how to apply them to solve real-world analytical problems.

What’s new?

By comparing it with other complementary atomic spectroscopy (AS) techniques, it gives the trace element analysis user community a glimpse into why the technique was first developed and how the application landscape has defined its use today, 40 years after it was first commercialized in 1983.

What’s new in the 4th edition:

  • Updated chapters on the fundamental principles and applications of ICP-MS.
  • New chapters on complementary AS techniques including AA, AF, ICP-OES, MIP-AES, XRF, XRD, LIBS, LALI-TOFMS.
  • Strategies for reducing errors and contamination with plasma spectrochemical techniques.
  • Comparison of collision and reaction cells including triple/multi quad systems.
  • Novel approaches to sample digestion.
  • Alternative sample introduction accessories.
  • Comprehensive glossary of terms used in AS.
  • New vendor contact information.

However, this edition of the book is not only suited to novices and beginners in cannabis testing laboratories, but also to more experienced analytical scientists who want to know more about recent ICP-MS developments and where the technique might be heading in the future. Furthermore, it offers much needed guidance on how best to evaluate commercial AS instrumentation and what might be the best technique, based on your lab’s specific application demands.

So, with that in mind, please feel free to check out the 4th edition of Practical Guide to ICP-MS and other AS Techniques: A Tutorial for Beginners…..I promise you will not be disappointed. More information, including ordering details, can be found at the link.

Robert Thomas

Principal of Scientific Solutions

Rob is a heavy metals expert and has written for Analytical Cannabis on the subject since 2019. Through his consulting company Scientific Solutions, he has helped educate countless professionals in the cannabis testing community on heavy metal analysis. He is also an editor and frequent contributor of the Atomic Perspectives column in Spectroscopy magazine, and has authored five textbooks on the principles and applications of mass spectrometry. Rob has an Advanced Degree in Analytical Chemistry from the University of Wales, UK, and is a fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry and a chartered chemist.


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