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Te ch ni cal N ote 4 3 1 8 3

Thermo Scientific iCAP 7000 Series ICP-OES

Gas Control Systems

Key Words
ICP gas control, Pressure control, Mass flow control

The majority of commercial Inductively Coupled
Plasma-Optical Emission Spectrometers (ICP-OES) use a
plasma torch based on the original Fassell design,
consisting of 3 glass tubes (Figure 1).
The three concentric quartz glass tubes of the torch are
precisely aligned to ensure that gas flows meet the
required velocity in a uniform fashion so that the plasma
formation is stable. Typical gas flows within the torch
Coolant or plasma gas 12 l/min with some applications
requiring slightly higher or lower flows
Auxiliary or intermediate gas 0.5 l/min with high salt
or organic applications requiring up to 2 l/min
Nebulizer gas 0.5 l/min depending upon the type of

It is critical that these gas flows remain constant in order

to achieve optimum instrument performance, resulting in
long term stability of the analytical signal. As each gas
flow serves a different purpose, changes in their flow rates
affect both the plasma and signal differently. The
nebulizer gas flow affects the analytical signal, with only
small changes in the flow rate causing relatively large
changes in the signal; this effect is commonly referred to
as instrument drift. For example, a 0.1% change in the
gas flow can result in a 1% change in the analytical signal.
The overall shape of the plasma is affected by the coolant
gas flow, at higher flows the plasma becomes elongated
and has a larger annular space, which affects the axial
channel, squeezing it and reducing its diameter. Stability
of the coolant gas flow is particularly important for axial
plasmas where the viewing zone may only be 1-2 mm
in diameter.
The auxiliary gas flow affects the relative position of the
plasma, which is particularly important for radial
plasmas. Small changes in the position of the plasma
affect where the radial viewing channel passes through
the plasma which alters the signal intensities differently
for each emission line, as higher energy lines (UV) are
more emitted more frequently in the centre of the plasma.
Two types of gas flow control systems are available for
the Thermo Scientific iCAP 7000 Series ICP-OES.

Coolant Gas
Auxillary Gas

Nebuliser Gas
Figure 1. ICP-OES torch design

Pressure Control System

Mass Flow Control System

A pressure control gas system operates using the

relationship between gas pressure and the corresponding
flow through a fixed orifice, as seen in figure 2.

Mass flow controllers, as the name suggests, operate by

controlling the actual mass flow of the gas. A typical
mass flow controller consists of 3 main components: a
control valve, a flow sensor and the electronic control
circuitry as show in figure 3. The sensor consists of a
long, thin capillary tube with temperature dependent
resistors on the outside. When gas starts to flow the
temperature profile becomes asymmetric, with the
corresponding shift in resistance being proportional to
the gas flow rate. This changing resistance is converted to
a voltage and used to operate the gas flow control valve.

Figure 2. Schematic of pressure control system

The high pressure input is first reduced with a precision

regulator to the operating pressure of the system.
Coolant and auxiliary gas flows are diverted to a series of
fixed restrictors each controlled with a solenoid valve. In
order to achieve the required flow, combinations of valves
are opened to allow the gas to pass through different
restrictors. The nebulizer gas is passed to a variable, high
precision pressure regulator. The regulator can be
adjusted to give the desired gas flow.
Pressure control gas systems are very robust, reliable and
simple to operate. However, the use of fixed restrictors
can mean a limited number of steps for the gas flow.
Also since gas density changes with temperature, if the
temperature of the incoming gas varies greatly the gas
flow rate will change, affecting the long term stability.
Pressure control of the gas flows is a cost effective design
and ideal for application where a limited number of
methods with similar parameters are used. If different
nebulizer flows are used with different methods then the
flow will need to be manually adjusted each time the
method is changed.

Figure 3. Schematic of a typical mass flow controller

The main benefit of mass flow controllers is that since

they operate using electron sensing of the gas flow they
are not affected by changes in atmospheric pressure or
ambient temperature, giving better long term stability.
In addition they offer rapid response times, typically less
than 1 second, and full computer control. The gas flow
settings are saved in the Thermo Scientific Qtegra
software LabBooks and are automatically set when
analysis is performed.
Due to this automated computer control, full mass flow
control is ideal for complex applications where multiple,
varying analytical methods are required.

Te ch ni cal N ote 4 3 1 8 3

By utilizing mass flow control for the nebulizer gas flow,

significant benefits can be gained in both long term
analytical stability and ease of use. By adding mass flow
controllers to the auxiliary and coolant gas flows,
performance will be further improved when using axial or
radial plasma viewing. Figure 4 displays the long term
(over 16 hours) analytical stability achieved when using
full mass flow control.

Figure 4. Long term signal stability using full mass flow control
Table 1. Recommended configurations
* Thermo Scientific iCAP 7400 ICP-OES with additional MFC
# Thermo Scientific iCAP 7600 ICP-OES for increased sample
throughput with Sprint Valve as standard upgrade





7600 #

Nebulizer Gas

Pressure Control

Mass Flow Control

Mass Flow Control

Mass Flow Control

Auxiliary & Control Gas

Pressure Control

Pressure Control

Mass Flow Control

Mass Flow Control

Routine analysis
Similar basic methods
Routine analysis
Varying basic methods
Routine analysis
Similar advanced methods
Research analysis
Varying advanced methods
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