LIBS is a material analysis revolution

LIBS has been around for some time, but the big news is that it's now cheap and portable.

Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) uses laser pulses to analyze the chemical composition of material.

A focused beam temporarily turns the material into a plasma, which emits light at characteristic frequencies based on its chemical composition. A quick analysis of the light tells you what you just zapped.

You can do this material on anything -- solid, liquid or gas. You don't have to do a lot of preparation on the material.

LIBS has been around for some time, but the big news is that it's now cheap and portable.

That could make it the tool of the decade:

  • NASA plans on taking a LIBS device called ChemCam with it on the next Mars Rover, called Curiosity.
  • Portable LIBS devices can let geologists analyze samples in the field, even in site.
  • Homeland security can use LIBS to quickly discover whether that package is a bomb or harmless.
  • Manufacturers can use LIBS to maintain higher quality control on products as they are made.
  • CSI can analyze chemical evidence in the field for the first time.

The newest units are relatively easy to use, highly accurate and pretty safe, too. As prices fall new applications arise, like testing the wear on engines and turbines.

And prices are going to plunge. The set-up above is from StellarNet in Tampa, Fla.. Other players include Andor Technology in Northern Ireland, Applied Spectra in Fremont, Calif., and Ocean Optics in Dunedin, Fla.

Instant analysis of solids, liquids and gases, done on site and at low cost, can transform science, engineering, manufacturing, and forensics. It will, too.

This post was originally published on


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