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Isotopic composition refers to how many different isotopes of an element are present and presented by highlighting the abundance of each isotope in atom percentage (%). This percentage indicates how many atoms in a sample are a specific isotope from all possible atoms in one element. Understanding isotopic composition is essential for many applications across the science and engineering industries, helping researchers learn more about historical climate conditions and groundwater migration. Natural processes can also alter these isotopic conditions, making identifying and monitoring them crucial.

One highly accurate method of determining the isotopic composition of samples is through secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS). This high-resolution analytical technique has many benefits in analyzing solid surfaces and thin films. SIMS is commonly used for determining trace element abundances in samples as it can identify low concentrations of impurities and dopants. In this blog post, we will look at how SIMS analysis is used to determine isotopic compositions and the benefits this provides to multiple applications.

Read our blog post here for a more comprehensive guide on how SIMS analysis works.

Roman coins – isotopic abundance is a powerful tool for archaeometry

Applications of SIMS in Isotopic Composition Analysis

We’ve already mentioned that researchers can use SIMS for various purposes across many scientific fields, and these include biological research, environmental science, geochronology, materials science, and petrochemical research. SIMS is used to analyze trace elements and isotopes in minerals, rocks, water, and other materials.

Isotopic composition analysis is crucial for developing a more comprehensive understanding of our world and various scientific fields, with some typical applications mentioned below.

  • Archeology: to learn about how ancient humans and animals lived and to verify the authenticity of artifacts
  • Biology: to understand diseases, the food chain, and the development of nutrients
  • Chemistry: to study reactions and identify sources of pollution
  • Geology: to study rocks and minerals, other planets, and how Earth evolved

Why is Determining Isotopic Composition Important?

Isotopic composition analysis can be used to study biological tissues, fluids, gases, minerals and rocks and offers valuable insights into various aspects of materials. By determining and analyzing the isotopic composition of a sample, scientists can obtain information about a material like its history, properties and origin. This analytical technique is crucial for gaining deeper insights about materials as scientists can determine the source of fluids, age of rocks, the metabolism of cells and many other details. Additionally, isotopic composition analysis is used to study environmental materials such as carbon dioxide or groundwater and learn about their origins and developments.

Hiden Analytical and SIMS Solutions

Hiden Analytical specialises in manufacturing quadrupole mass spectrometers, offering a wide range of instruments for advanced scientific research and process monitoring. We provide several SIMS imaging solutions, including the SIMS Workstation and the Compact SIMS, both highly sensitive to isotopic composition and will quickly characterise surface contamination and layer structures.

Contact Hiden Analytical today to learn more about how SIMS is used to determine isotopic composition. 


  1. https://heritagesciencejournal.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s40494-018-0192-3 
  2. https://www.rsc.org/images/Archaeology%20-%20The%20bones%20of%20it_tcm18-192914.pdf
  3. https://heritagesciencejournal.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s40494-018-0192-3