Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometer

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The NanoSIMS is a type of imaging mass spectrometer that can be used to measure the isotopic distribution of elements in all types of samples down to 100 nm spatial resolution routinely. It is capable of detecting isotopes of every element in the periodic table at ppm or ppb levels depending upon the element. Typical applications include trace or light element mapping and spatially resolved isotopic ratio measurements.

Spatial resolution

50 nm with Cs+ beam (for electronegative elements), 200-300 with O- beam (for electropositive elements)

Detection limits

ppm to ppb, depending upon element

Mass Resolution

M/ΔM >10,000


6 movable detectors and 1 fixed detector allow for parallel acquisition of 7 masses

Analysis Chamber vacuum

~5e-10 mbar (samples must be high vacuum compatible and flat)


It can be an extremely powerful method for understanding the dynamics of processes by stable isotope labeling in materials across all scientific disciplines.

However, it is not particularly useful for the quantification of trace elements because matrix matched standards are required to convert the measured ion signal into a concentration. It is also one of the most complicated instruments in the Royce toolkit and is therefore not amenable to “quick look” types of experiments.

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