Science With Purpose

University of New Mexico, University of Pennsylvania, and University of Montana Win 2021 ICP-MS Inorganic Research Contest

March 24, 2022
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In 2021, we launched our NexION® 5000 ICP-MS 2021 US Research Contest. Designated for US-based inorganic research projects, laboratories from across the United States submitted impressive contest proposals that spanned a variety of research disciplines.

Amongst this year’s outstanding pool of contestants, two runner-ups and a grand prize winner were selected. Selection was based on a contestant’s scientific application – and how a Multi-Quadrupole ICP-MS would benefit this application.

Their winning laboratory receives a NexION 5000 Multi-Quadrupole ICP-MS system, and both secondary winning labs are awarded a 50% discount on their NexION 5000.

Our Mission to Support Researchers 

These three laboratories reflect PerkinElmer’s continuous mission to support researchers in their scientific exploration. We spoke with each of our award-winners about their inorganic research – and the use of ICP-MS in their labs.


Dr. Abdul-Mehdi S. Ali, The University of New Mexico

Dr. Ali’s laboratory is investigating research opportunities in aqueous and solid samples analysis, including biological, biomedical, and geological samples. These analyses will be performed for total metal and elemental metal speciation and include a broad range of applications in environmental and health sciences. The NexION 5000 ICP-MS will enable Dr. Ali’s laboratory to investigate the significant impacts of total metal and elemental metal speciation on human health and toxicity.

Dr. Ali commented on the impact of high precision equipment in his laboratory, “The multi-quadrupole ICP mass spec will greatly enhance our capabilities to measure elemental species at trace levels. This is especially important for biomedical and environmental samples, and this can be accomplished by coupling the NexSAR HPLC with the NexION ICP mass spec for analyzing elemental species of arsenic, arsenic 3, arsenic 5, monomethyl arsenic, dimethyl arsenic chromium, chrome 3, chrome 6, selenium, selenium 4 and selenium 6.”

Dr. Ali continued, “The multi-quadrupole ICP mass spec greatly enhanced our capabilities by coupling the New Wave 213 laser system with the ICP mass spec to perform laser ablation and this can be done for geological, biomedical and biota samples.”


Dr. Jon Hawking, University of Pennsylvania Biogeochemical Cycles Lab

The Penn Biogeochemical Cycles Lab (Penn BiCycles Lab) is focused on understanding how chemical elements flow through living and non-living components of terrestrial and near coastal systems, with particular interest in polar and alpine environments. The accurate determination of elemental concentrations in their collected samples is critical for understanding physical, chemical, and biological processes in these environments.

Current projects at the Penn BiCycles Lab include:

  • An investigation into the aqueous geochemistry of glacier fed rivers
  • Determining mobilization and flow of elements in glaciated landscapes
  • Evaluating the associated impacts of glacial meltwaters on downstream ecosystems, particularly in coastal environments with economically important ecosystem services (e.g., fisheries in Greenland)

Broadly, Penn Bicycles Lab looks to better understand the role of glaciers in elemental cycling and, in turn, ecosystem health.

Elements generated from chemical weathering of rock (e.g., Fe, Mn, Co, Zn) help sustain biological productivity (as micronutrients) and elucidate essential information on where water originates and travels. Information on elemental concentrations and speciation in natural waters help us better understand glaciers as sensitive barometers of climate change. The element fingerprint of meltwater informs changes to glacial hydrology, which in turn can influence the way ice flows and, therefore, its vulnerability to warming temperatures.

Their research will shed light on trace element mobilization and transport in runoff from glaciers. Glaciers as active components of elemental cycles is a poorly understood concept, despite the importance of biologically essential elements in Earth system processes and the immensity of glacial cover and volume (covering nearly 10 % of the Earth’s surface and over 70 % of global freshwater reserve).

Therefore, low-level elemental analysis is paramount for the Penn BiCycles Lab. Trace element concentrations in natural waters from pristine environments are typically very low, <1 ppb (nM to fM range), and the instrumentation needed to accurately quantify concentrations requires ultra-sensitivity. The matrices of interest are also diverse, and include particulate digests, dilute snow and ice melt, and saline coastal waters. These matrices, coupled to potentially exceptionally low concentrations of elements of interest, present analytical challenges that can only be overcome with the novel sample introduction systems, industry leading interface removal (i.e., multi-quadrupole ICP-MS) and ultra-low detection limits of instruments like the NexION 5000 ICP-MS.

Lead researcher at the Penn BiCycles lab, Jon Hawking, commented, “The addition of a PerkinElmer NexION 5000 multi-quadrupole ICP-MS to our lab will provide a step-change for Earth and environmental science research in the Penn BiCylces Lab and more broadly at the University of Pennsylvania. The NexION 5000 will provide a powerful and flexible solution to meet the objectives of our current research, while opening a range of possibilities for future work including novel methodologies like single particle analysis and elemental speciation through coupling of a HPLC to the ICP-MS.”

Grand Prize Winner

Dr. Ben Colman, University of Montana

The University of Montana’s Environmental Biogeochemistry Laboratory (EBL) examines element cycling in hydrologic, geologic, and ecological systems through careful measurement of elemental concentrations in complex matrices. Much of the EBL’s work takes place at the “critical zone”, where the lithosphere is extensively reworked through interactions with the hydrosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere. Central to this work is the use of ICP-MS analyses to investigate the origin, persistence, geochemical transformation, active removal, and organismal accumulation of a wide variety of elements in the critical zone.

One core area of focus of Dr. Colman, co-director of the EBL, is on examining the distribution of elements between truly dissolved solutes (< 1 nm) and submicron particles like nanoparticles and other colloidal particles. Much of this work examines how the composition of elements in submicron particles varies by particle size, and the extent to which element cycling and accumulation by organisms is driven by submicron particles compared to truly dissolved solutes. Elements of interest include the contaminant metalloids arsenic and selenium, and the contaminant metals cadmium, copper, lead, and zinc.

Dr. Colman is also interested in the role of iron, manganese, silicon, and titanium as vectors for these potentially toxic elements. His lab is also investigating phosphorus, which can partition into the colloidal size range, and sulfur, which is commonly complexed with metals in sulfur-rich environments. Much of this work uses the mine waste-contaminated Clark Fork River as a primary site for research.

Access to a NexION 5000 will allow researchers at the EBL to use single particle ICP-MS approaches to better probe the composition of incidentally and naturally occurring nanoparticles and colloidal particles. It will also enhance Dr. Colman’s ability to look for nanoparticle and colloidal particles containing phosphorus, selenium, and silicon in complex mixtures, as well as possibly allowing them to quantify the presence of sulfur in metal sulfide nanoparticles.

“The accurate and precise measurement of selenium, phosphorus, and sulfur using multi quadrupole technology will allow us to expand our capacities far beyond what we could do with our Elan-DRCII by allowing us to more accurately remove interferences both through better mass filtering alone and in combination with a collision/reaction gas. This capacity will ensure that we are measuring our intended elements as accurately as possible while also giving us access to cutting edge techniques.”

Dr. Colman continued, “Nowhere would this be more important than for the analyses of the movement of Se through food webs. This work will include the analysis of hundreds of samples of algae, zooplankton, larger aquatic invertebrates, fish, and blood from songbirds that eat the terrestrial forms of aquatic insects.

By looking along the food chain, we can see where the Se goes and to what extent it accumulates. Selenium measurements for this work need to be highly accurate, such as those enabled by the multi-quad technology in the NexION 5000, which can remove interferences from ions such as doubly charged gadolinium and samarium, which have been identified as potentially problematic.”

On behalf of PerkinElmer, we would like to thank those that participated in the NexION 5000 ICP-MS 2021 US Research Contest and look forward to future opportunities to support researchers.  

While We’re on the Topic of Award Winning…

Dr. Ali, Dr. Colman, and Dr. Hawking aren’t the only award winners in this blog.

The NexION 5000 ICP-MS has also won prestigious 2021 industry awards, being the first in its category to boast four quads – delivering ideal detection limits, superior interference removal, outstanding stability, and unmatched matrix tolerance, needed for their research.

Read this blog post to see how we developed this ground-breaking ICP-MS.



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