Resonance and nonresonant laser ionization of sputtered uranium atoms from thin films and single microparticles: evaluation of a combined system for particle trace analysis

Anal Chem. 2003 Jul 1;75(13):3175-81. doi: 10.1021/ac0264426.


The resonance and nonresonant laser ionization of uranium atoms sputtered from thin metal films and individual micrometer-size uranium oxide particles, respectively, was studied to evaluate a new setup for the analysis of actinide-containing micrometer-size particles. Experiments using nonresonant (193-nm) ionization of atoms and molecules sputtered from micrometer-size uranium oxide particles have shown that the uranium detection efficiencies for sputtered neutral atoms are approximately 2 orders of magnitude higher than for secondary ions. In uranium particles of 0.5-microm diameter, 6 x 10(6) atoms of 235U were easily detected and the isotopic ratio of 235U/238U = 0.0048 +/- 4.6% is in excellent agreement with the certified value. The use of two-color, two-step resonance ionization of the sputtered neutral uranium atoms from thin films was investigated. Several excitation schemes were tested, and a significant population of several low-lying metastable states after ion sputtering was observed. Autoionizing states for double-resonant ionization were determined, and the high selectivity of ionization schemes involving these autoionizing states was illustrated by comparing the flight-time distributions of different sputtered species obtained both by resonance and nonresonant multiphoton (355-nm) laser postionization. Ideally, the options for resonance as well as nonresonant ionization would be combined in a single setup, to obtain a large gain in sensitivity and selectivity. Thus, information about the main components as well as specific isotopic information of a trace element could be obtained from the same single particle.