In addition to solid, liquid, and gas, plasma is sometimes considered as a fourth state of matter. A plasma is formed when a gas contains a significant amount of ions and free electrons. Plasmas can be high energy, high temperature entities with temperatures of up to 10,000 degrees C. An example of a high energy plasma is a lightning flash.
In an ICP as used in ICP-optical emission spectroscopy (OES) and ICP-mass spectrometry (MS) instruments, argon (Ar) is used to generate the plasma inside a torch assembly made from quartz. The required energy (typically 1500 W) is provided through an RF frequency and applied via an induction coil surrounding the torch. The plasma is ignited using a short electrical discharge and maintained as long as the RF frequency is applied. The sample is introduced through the central channel of the torch and hence directly entering the plasma. All parts of the system are either water-cooled, or cooled using Ar at a higher flow rate.
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