University of Bayreuth, Presse release No. 157/2022 - 28 September 2022

University of Bayreuth receives new mass spectrometers for space rock research

As of today, the Bavarian Research Institute of Experimental Geochemistry and Geophysics (BGI) of the University of Bayreuth has two new high-performance mass spectrometers for the exploration of the solar system. The instruments enable special analyses of Earth and extra-terrestrial rocks, but also of material samples that have been artificially synthesized in the BGI high-pressure experimental laboratory. Rock samples from the Moon, from Mars or from asteroids will in future be analyzed for their chemical and isotopic composition under the direction of Prof. Dr. Audrey Bouvier.

The mass spectrometer "ThermoScientific Neoma MC-ICP-MS/MS" is hoisted to the second floor of the Bavarian Research Institute of Experimental Geochemistry and Geophysics (BGI). 

The mass spectrometer has arrived on the BGI terrace. The BGI is now the first research institution in Germany to own such a spectrometer.

Due to its extraordinary weight and size, one of the two mass-spectrometers had to be hoisted into the second floor of the BGI building from outside using a crane. Here, the new instruments were installed in a clean-room laboratory for cosmochemistry, which is currently being set up. "With these two mass-spectrometers, the composition of space rock can be analyzed very precisely: we can determine which chemical elements are contained in a sample and at what abundance, and likewise we can – with respect to each of these elements – determine precisely which isotopic composition they have in the analysed materials. These findings tell us about the origin and formation history of the materials. The competences of the BGI with respect to the investigation of extraterrestrial materials will thus be considerably strengthened. One focus of our research will be material analyses of meteorites that have hit the Earth and samples brought back by spacecraft missions," explains Prof. Dr. Audrey Bouvier, cosmochemist at BGI. She was recently appointed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the European Space Agency (ESA) as a member of the Mars Sample Return Campaign Science Group. Among other things, this body defines the scientific objectives of the ongoing sample collection on Mars and decides on the preservation and distribution of samples for scientific analysis.

Prof. Dr. Audrey Bouvier with the mass spectrometer that arrived on the BGI terrace.

The plasma source magnetic sector mass spectrometer "ThermoScientific Neoma MC-ICP-MS/MS".

One of the two new spectrometers is a plasma source magnetic sector mass spectrometer called "ThermoScientific Neoma MC-ICP-MS/MS." BGI is now the first research facility in Germany to have a spectrometer of this type. The instrument enables unprecedented precision when it comes to accurately measuring the isotopes and their abundances contained in trace metals. It will be used at BGI primarily for analyses of terrestrial and extraterrestrial samples, but can also be used for ecological, archaeological and biological studies. The second spectrometer is a mass spectrometer called "Thermo Scientific iCAP Triple-Quadrupole-ICP-MS ". This one can be used to precisely determine the abundances of trace elements in solutions or solid materials. Even if trace elements make up only the trillionth part of a sample, they can still be measured.

Both mass spectrometers can be used in conjunction with a so-called "ESI laser excimer ablation source", which is also available at BGI. This device can be used, for example, to separate tiny particles from minerals, which are then available for the respective mass-spectrometric analyses. If all three devices are combined, the chemical and isotopic composition of a sample can be determined simultaneously.

Prof. Dr. Audrey Bouvier

Prof. Dr. Audrey Bouvier

Experimental Planetology
Bavarian Research Institute of Experimental Geochemistry and Geophysics (BGI)
University of Bayreuth

Phone: +49 (0) 921 55-3792

Christian Wißler, Wissenschaftskommunikation

Christian Wißler

Deputy Press & PR Manager, Research Communication
University of Bayreuth

Phone: +49 (0)921 / 55-5356