Sample Preparation Services

We perform a wide range of end-to-end sample preparation techniques for elemental, isotopic, and geochronological analyses. Proper preparation is key to ensuring that the data obtained are representative of the sample. 

Sample Crushing and Homogenization Techniques

The first step in sample preparation for trace element analysis and isotopic analyses is to homogenize samples by crushing them into a powder by mechanical or manual means. Proper homogenization ensures that aliquots are representative of the entire sample.

For trace element and isotopic analyses, we are able to perform the following techniques:

  • Whole-rock crushing (Rocklabs tungsten-carbide rock crusher): reduces rocks to mm-sized granules
  • Whole-rock powdering (Fritsche Pulverisette agate planetary ball mill, following crushing): reduces granules to a homogenous powder
  • Manual sample crushing (for non-rock samples, using a mortar and pestle)
  • Sample drying (freeze drying, oven drying)

For geochronological sample preparation, see the geochronology services page.

Rocklabs rock crusher

Rocklabs rock crusher at PCIGR. Photo: V. Lai. 

    Ultra-clean Wet Chemistry Techniques

    For analyses at low analyte concentrations, all handling of powdered samples takes place inside our certified Class 100 clean-room laboratories. 

    For trace element analyses and isotopic analyses via ICP-MS or TIMS, we can perform the following chemical techniques:

    • Leaching of samples inside Savillex® PFA beakers (only for samples exposed to seawater alteration, for isotopic analyses)
    • Acid digestion of sample powders into solution by hotplate “flux” inside Savillex® PFA vials
    • Acid digestion of sample powders into solution inside high-pressure Teflon® vessels for samples with refractory minerals
    • Ion-exchange chromatography to pre-concentrate analytes of interest prior to analysis

    We use only ultra-clean water (Elix/MilliQ water filtration system), and either quartz-distilled or sub-boiled acids (Savillex DST-1000 and DST-4000 systems) during sample preparation. 

    The entire air-handling system for our Class 100 clean labs is filtered by 42 HEPA filters, with two levels of pre-filtration. Labs are accessed via a vestibule and are restricted to authorized users. Full gowning is required inside the labs. 

    PCIGR has 3 metal-free clean labs that each have an independent air supply: 

    • Tracer lab: devoted to Pb-Sr-Nd-Hf separation for isotopic analyses, together with separation for heavy stable isotopic analyses
    • U-Pb lab: used only for U-Pb zircon (+baddeleyite/monazite/titanite) chemistry
    • Low-level lab: reserved for chemical preparations for analyses that have special requirements of low concentrations (sub-ppm to ppb)
    Class 100 clean laboratory with metal-free laminar flow hoods

    Class 100 clean laboratory with metal-free laminar flow hoods at PCIGR. Photo: D. Weis.

    Other Sample Preparation Techniques & Lab Environments

    For analyses that do not require ultra-clean settings, all sample weighing and wet chemistry takes place in our regular sample preparation labs prior to analysis.

    PCIGR is also equipped with sawing and polishing equipment to prepare samples and sample mounts for in-situ and microanalysis.

    We accept pre-prepared samples for analysis and can provide advice about optimal sample preparation if you choose to prepare your own samples. First-time users are advised to contact our scientific and technical team before preparing samples. See contacts below. 

    Capabilities, Contacts and Costs

    The preparation of samples by our technical team is included as part of the geochemical analysis package and is costed separately on our Fees page

    PCIGR can process the following types of sample materials*:

    • Rocks and minerals
    • Sediments, soils and dusts
    • Water (e.g., sea water, lake water, pore water)
    • Plant materials
    • Animal tissue (both soft tissues and mineralized bones and teeth)
    • Foods and pharmaceuticals
    • Archaeological materials
    • Advanced manufacturing materials

    * Please note that PCIGR is not equipped to accept radioactive materials. 

    First-time users intending to send raw samples to PCIGR for sample preparation and associated analyses should review the relevant analytical services pages on this website.

    For questions about sample preparation, contact:

    Please do not submit raw or prepared samples without first speaking to us. Thank you.

    Sample prep PDF cover sheet

    Download our Sample Preparation Services brochure [PDF]

    First Nations land acknowledegement

    We acknowledge that the UBC Point Grey campus is situated on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm.

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