The use of isotopes to understand the behavior of metals in geological, hydrological, and biological systems has rapidly expanded in recent years. One of the mass spectrometric techniques used to analyze metal isotopes is thermal ionization mass spectrometry, or TIMS. While TIMS has been a useful analytical technique for the measurement of isotopic composition for decades and TIMS instruments are widely distributed, there are significant difficulties associated with using TIMS to analyze isotopes of the lighter alkaline earth elements and transition metals. Overcoming these difficulties to produce relatively long-lived and stable ion beams from microgram-sized samples is a non-trivial task. We focus here on TIMS analysis of three geologically and environmentally important elements (Fe, Cr, and Ca) and present an in-depth look at several key aspects that we feel have the greatest potential to trouble new users. Our discussion includes accessible descriptions of different analytical approaches and issues, including filament loading procedures, collector cup configurations, peak shapes and interferences, and the use of isotopic double spikes and related error estimation. Building on previous work, we present quantitative simulations, applied specifically in this study to Fe and Ca, that explore the effects of (1) time-variable evaporation of isotopically homogeneous spots from a filament and (2) interferences on the isotope ratios derived from a double spike subtraction routine. We discuss how and to what extent interferences at spike masses, as well as at other measured masses, affect the double spike-subtracted isotope ratio of interest (44Ca/40Ca in the case presented, though a similar analysis can be used to evaluate 56Fe/54Fe and 53Cr/52Cr). The conclusions of these simulations are neither intuitive nor immediately obvious, making this examination useful for those who are developing new methodologies. While all simulations are carried out in the context of a specific isotope system, it should be noted that the same methods can be used to evaluate any isotope system of interest.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Geochemistry and Petrology