CERSA Laboratories

CERSA houses the suite of laboratory instrumentation and field equipment that underpins physical science research by our staff and students.

CERSA can determine the chemical composition and structure of a wide array of synthetic and natural materials and also allows researchers to undertake geological, geophysical and environmental field investigations around the world. The capabilities of CERSA are further enhanced by strong reciprocal links to the St Andrews Centre for Advanced Materials.
The equipment and expertise available in CERSA can be accessed on a either a collaborative or fee-for-service basis

Techniques Available:

XRF - X-Ray Fluorescence

XRF (X-ray fluorescence spectrometry) is a non-destructive analytical technique used to identify and determine the concentrations of elements present in solid, powdered and liquid samples, it is capable of measuring elements from Sodium (Na) to uranium (U) and beyond at trace levels often below one part per million and up to 100%. XRF has a wide application in industry and research due to its ability in providing high speed accurate and reproducible elemental analysis. XRF analysis is fast, accurate and non-destructive, and typically requires only a minimum of sample preparation.

CERSA has two operational EDPXRF's, a recently purchased Panalytical Epsilon 5 and a Spectro X-Lab, both instruments utilise 3-dimensional, polarizing optical geometry, which allows sub-ppm determination of a range of elements.

X-Ray Fluorescence

Epsilon 5 EDPXRF

Typical XRF Application Areas:

  • Materials Research
  • RoHS II, WEEE and ELV
  • Forensics
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Metals
  • Environmental
  • Mining & Minerals
  • Chemical & Petrochemical
  • Plastics & Polymers
  • Food & Cosmetics
  • Building Materials

XRD - X-Ray Diffraction

X-ray diffraction (XRD) is a versatile, non-destructive technique that reveals detailed information about the chemical composition and crystallographic structure of natural and manufactured materials, throughout industry and research institutions, XRD has become an indispensable method for materials investigation, characterization and quality control. Powdered samples are analysed and matched against a databases, thereby identifying the unknown phases within the sample. The technique utilises the diffraction (reflection) of X-rays from the unique arrangement of atoms in a crystal structure, the resulting data is shown graphically in the form of a diffraction pattern or 'diffractogram'. Quantification is performed using Rietveld analysis using Siroquant software.

XRD - X-Ray Diffraction


Typical XRD Application Areas:

Minerals: •Aggregates •Minerals and Ores •Mine Tailings •Heavy Mineral Separates

•GGBS, PFA •Limestone •Silica Sand and Clays •Airborne Quartz Aggregates.

  • Polymers
  • Catalysts
  • Plastics
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Thin-film coatings
  • Ceramics
  • Solar cells
  • Semiconductors

ICPMS (Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry)

ICP-MS is a rapid and highly sensitive multielement analytical technique which is capable of quantification of total analyte concentrations, measuring a full suite of elements in a single multi-element acquisition, it accepts almost any liquid sample type and can also provide isotopic information. ICPMS  has a wide elemental coverage and virtually all elements can be measured including alkali and alkaline earth elements, transition and other metals, metalloids, rare earth elements, most of the halogens and some of the non-metals. High sensitivity and low background signals combine to give very low detection limits (sub-ng/L – parts-per-trillion (ppt) in most cases), analysis is rapid, with a high speed scanning quadrupole analyzer, measurement of a full suite of elements takes  a few minutes per sample and the analytical working range covers up to 9 orders of magnitude in a single acquisition.


LA-ICPMS (Laser Ablation Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry)


LA-ICPMS is a powerful analytical technology that enables highly sensitive elemental and isotopic analysis to be performed directly on solid samples, a laser beam is focused on the sample surface to generate fine particles – a process known as Laser Ablation. The ablated particles are then transported to the secondary excitation source of the ICP-MS instrument for digestion and ionization of the sampled mass. The excited ions in the plasma torch are subsequently introduced to a mass spectrometer detector for both elemental and isotopic analysis.

CESRA has a Thermo X'Series II ICPMS coupled to a UP213 New Wave Laser system.

Thermo X'Series II ICPMSUP213 New Wave Laser

Typical ICPMS/LA-ICPMS Application Areas:

  • Environmental
  • Food and Agriculture
  • Semiconductor
  • Clinical and Pharmaceutical
  • Geological
  • Nuclear
  • Forensics

IRMS (Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometry)

Stable isotope ratio analysis is the precise measurement of the abundance ratio of two stable isotopes of a particular element. Many elements have two or more naturally occurring stable isotopes. Since the isotopes of a particular element have identical chemical properties but slightly different masses, they may enter into chemical reactions at different rates which can induce local variations in isotopic composition.


The CERSA stable-isotope laboratory has the capacity to determine the stable-isotope composition of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, sulphur and hydrogen in microgram quantities of natural and synthetic materials, including solid or liquid samples containing organic matter, inorganic carbonates or water and gaseous samples such as respired carbon dioxide or atmosphere.


CESRA has a Thermo-Finnegan Delta plus XP gas source mass spectrometer, operable in both dual inlet and continuous flow modes, coupled to (i) an elemental analyser with zero blank auto-sampler for small sample measurements of organic matter in soils, sediments and biological tissues and (ii) a gasbench II preparation system for the automated analysis of carbonates, waters and gases.

Typical IRMS Application Areas:

  • Carbon cycling in the biosphere
  • Atmosphere and oceans
  • Palaeoenvironmental reconstruction
  • Dietary and metabolic studies
  • Molecular and biomolecular reaction
  • Environmental chemistry and monitoring


  • Scanning Electron Microscopy  
  • Reflected and transmitted light microscopy
  • Fluid inclusions


  • Luminescence Dating Laboratory (OSL, TL)
  • Mineral spectroscopy
  • Time-resolved spectroscopy
  • Cathodoluminescence


  • Rock crushing, sawing, grinding, drilling and preparation of powders and fusions
  • Franz Magnetic Mineral separator Mineral mounts and thin section preparation Clean lab and multi-purpose laboratories