Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS), sometimes referred to as Laser Induced Plasma Spectroscopy (LIPS), is a real-time technique used to measure the atomic composition of materials. Some of the major advantages to this technique are in its simplicity. Little or no sample preparation is required, reducing the possibility of contamination. It is minimally invasive since a very small amount of sample can give good results. Data are easily interpretable so skilled analysts are not required. The instruments themselves can be made rugged and portable.

A high power pulsed laser (typically in the range 10-100 mJ) is used to create a high temperature plasma spark (typically >10,000 Kelvin) which vaporizes a small amount of the target material (typically picogram to microgram quantities). The dissociated, ionized target material emits light which is characteristic of the elemental composition (typically of temporal duration less than ~100 microseconds). The spectrum is then captured, often using a spectrometer in the 0.2 to 0.9 micron wavelength range. The shot-to-shot variation of this technique can be high, but samples can easily be take at rates of hundreds of hertz, producing good statistical results.

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