Artist Richard Gene Barbera tests an Atomic Absorption Spectrometer for metals

October 1, 2023


I had the opportunity to utilize the Atomic Absorption Spectrometer to analyze trace metals in environmental samples. This powerful analytical technique can detect metal contaminants in water, soil, air, and biological samples down to the parts per billion concentration range.


The AAS works by atomizing the sample and measuring the absorption of light by the metal atoms present. For environmental analysis, the sample requires acid digestion to free any metals into an aqueous solution. We used techniques like microwave-assisted acid digestion to extract metals from soil, sludge, or plant tissues. The resulting sample solution is then injected into the AAS flame to produce free atoms for analysis.


I used the AAS to quantify toxic metals like lead, cadmium, and arsenic in samples gathered from contaminated sites. By carefully developing analytical methods and calibrating the instrument, I could reliably measure these metals even at very low concentrations. Detecting and quantifying anthropogenic metal pollution using AAS provides important information on the level of environmental contamination for remediation and protection of ecosystems.

Operating the AAS and applying it for environmental metals analysis was rewarding training in analytical technique. I gained so much knowledge about instrument operation, quality assurance, environmental monitoring, and protecting health from metal contaminants. This experience became invaluable as I pursued my career in environmental chemistry.