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Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS)

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Have you ever looked at a material and wondered what it’s made of? Wondered what you might be coming in contact with daily? Well with the use of laser induced breakdown spectroscopy, we can tell exactly what’s in all those materials.

Whoa whoa, back up. Laser Induced Breakdown whaaat? Let’s break (no pun intended) it down.

Alaser, as you probably know, is a device that shoots a concentrated beam of visible light. They can be used for cutting like in surgery, or simply to scan bar codes at the grocery store. In LIBS, the laser is the initiator of the entire process which is why the technology is called laser-induced.

Breakdown spectroscopy is a technology that can split the light spectrum into it’s individual wavelengths. It doesn’t have a specific form as it can be a super complex machine or just a little prism that splits white light into a rainbow.

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LIBS being used on pipes

So LIBS is a technology that uses lasers to breakdown light spectrum into their individual waves.

How Does LIBS Work?

First, like I mentioned, the laser shoots the beam of light that starts the process. The light is then reflected off a mirror and goes through a focusing lens so it’s more concentrated and targeted. This is when it hits the sample of material. The laser beam removes the electrons from the material’s atoms which creates plasma. Electrons rejoin atoms once the plasma has cooled and produce UV, visual, and infrared light. This light is collected by more lenses then transmitted through a fiber optic cable to the spectrograph. Here, the lights are split up, measured by a spectrometer and processed by software within it to produce results of the elements present, and their quantities.

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A diagram I made of how LIBS works

This entire process is compacted into a small handheld device like the picture at the top. You push a button to emit the laser then it does the rest and spits out the results on a screen for you to see. Not only is the process extremely compact, it only takes a few seconds!

Why Should You Care?

So we have this super cool technology, but why is it useful? How does it help improve our lives? Well, LIBS has actually been used in many healthcare situations and greatly improved them. An example is diagnosing asthma in children. Researchers used LIBS to measure elements within the body and from the data, were able to tell if the child had asthma. Researchers have also used LIBS on general patients to detect elemental unbalances in the body that can cause a medical condition. This will help prevent sickness, rather than just treating it.

You’re probably curious as to if using this technology on the body will harm it, but as of now, researchers have found no side effects on the body from the use of LIBS. Other benefits of using it include that it is very fast so you can get results quickly, and that it has minimal tampering with the material so you wouldn’t be able to tell the material is different unless you looked at the molecular level.

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Photo by Rob Morton on Unsplash

LIBS is not only useful for human health, but also environmental health. It has been used as an analysis system for the contamination of the environment, specifically around mining sites where contamination is more likely. This helps prevent water contamination from run off because we will be aware if the soil is contaminated and can take the proper measures to clean it. If we are not sure if the water is contaminated, we can use LIBS to test it and then take the appropriate measures.

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This will have a huge impact on the environment because water contamination is one of the main factors of habitat loss, pollution, and changes to populations. Cleaning up our water and preventing it from getting dirty can help save the wildlife, aquatic and terrestrial.

Key Takeaways

  • LIBS uses a series of lenses and processors to determine what elements are in a material
  • It can be used on the human body to find out about elemental imbalances that cause sickness
  • It can also be used on the environment to clean water and help prevent contamination

Thank you for reading my article on laser induced breakdown spectroscopy! I hope you learned a lot! If you have any questions, comments, or advice please let me know in the comments. Also, if you’d like to read more of my articles, check out this one on communication with computers!

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