This image shows a backpack mounted Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) system developed at Los Alamos for nuclear safeguards monitoring. The Los Alamos LIBS technology was also used in the Mars Science Laboratory.
This Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) system is used to sample soil in the field or taken from the ground. LIBS works by firing a brief, very intense pulse of laser light at a surface. The laser beam vaporizes a spot on the target sample that’s roughly the size of a pencil point. A small spotting scope mounted near the laser source captures light emitted from the vaporized area and directs it to a spectral analyzer.
This analyzer, part of the LIBS device, looks at the signature of the light to determine what elements are present. Each element creates its own spectral fingerprint.
Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy technology itself is not new. Earth and space scientists have proposed using the technology to determine the composition of the surfaces of other planets, asteroids, moons and comets. The device is small, rugged and portable, and is easy to use and maintain. In other Earth-bound applications, LIBS can analyze samples from as far as 50 feet away, or can be used to analyze areas inside tight nooks and crannies that might not be convenient to sample by conventional methods.
Image credit: Los Alamos National Laboratory