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“The light of knowledge” is an apt phrase for spectroscopy, as it is the study of the interaction between matter and radiated energy.

Los Alamos scientists take advantage of many types of spectroscopy to address problems that range from national security to new materials

At Los Alamos, scientists take advantage of many types of spectroscopy—from Raman and nanoparticle to Mossbaier and optical—to address problems that range from national security and infectious diseases to exploring planets like Mars and materials science.


Static UV-VIS, Near-IR, and IR absorption/reflection, fluorescence, phosphorescence, and Raman spectroscopies

Ultra-fast time-resolved UV-Vis, Near-IR and IR absorption and fluorescence spectroscopy

Single-molecule/nanoparticle spectroscopy
Low-temperature, high-pressure, and high-magnetic-field spectroscopy
Mossbauer spectroscopy for solid-state research
Optical spectroscopy
Photoelectron spectroscopy
Project Description

Los Alamos scientists take advantage of many types of spectroscopy—from Raman and optical to Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) and nanoparticle—to address problems that range from national security and infectious diseases to exploring planets like Mars and materials science. ...more...

In the area of materials science, spectroscopy plays a role in solving problems related to conventional and nuclear defense, high-energy density physics, energy security, advanced materials for specialty applications, and nanotechnology.

Projects include using vibrational (infrared and Raman) spectroscopy techniques to study polymer and materials anomalies, degradation chemistry, and reaction kinetics. Los Alamos scientists are also performing research into spectroscopic imaging and analysis.

Analytical chemistry efforts include a number of analytical techniques, such as thermal gravimetric analysis coupled with mass spectrometry (TGA-MS) or FTIR.

Research and Technology Development Areas
  • Invented, built, and tested SOFIA, a high-sensitivity fiber-optics spectrometer (in collaboration with SUNY Downstate Medical Center). SOFIA performs antemortem measurements of femtomolar concentrations of prions. These types of proteins are responsible for diseases such as spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease) in sheep and Creuzfeld-Jacob disease in humans.
  • Refined, miniaturized, and applied LIBS (laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy) to a variety of instruments, from a backpack LIBS system that can measure soil nutrients important to agricultural sustainability to the ChemCam instrument aboard the Mars rover Curiosity. ChemCam is collecting strong, clear data about the composition of the Martian surface.
  • Invented CARISS (Compositional Analysis by Raman-Integrated Spark Spectroscopy), a field-deployable instrument that provides a complete chemical analysis (elemental and compositional) of a material at close, standoff, and remote distances. CARISS uses two laser beams to conduct such analyses. The rugged instrumentation, highly adaptable to real-world analysis situations, provides rapid—less than two minutes per sample—“hands-off,” measurement, reducing analysis time and cost by at least a factor of 100. Designed for analysis in the field, CARISS can fit into a briefcase or a lunchbox, depending on the application. This technology received an R&D 100 Award in 2003.
  • Developed conducting polymer (polyaniline) thin films as substrates for the growth of nanostructured silver nanoparticles. The nanoparticles can be used for surface enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS) for molecular sensing applications. The new films grow metal nanoparticles with tunable morphologies not achievable by more traditional solution based synthetic approaches. This tunability is achieved by manipulating experimental conditions such as temperature and concentration, and by varying the reduction potential of the polyaniline films through doping. Varying the reduction potential of the films enables the spontaneous deposition of silver (or other metals) on the polymer surface from an aqueous solution of metal ions. Los Alamos scientists have demonstrated a range of nanostructured features that can be controllably and reproducibly formed over any shape in which the polymer has been formed.
  • Collaborated with the Japan Atomic Energy Agency to use nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy to discover plutonium-239’s magnetic resonance. Such a discover promises to revolutionize the understanding of plutonium solid-state physics, chemistry, biology, and materials science. Possible applications include nuclear fuels, power generation for interplanetary exploration, environmental behavior, and long-term storage of nuclear waste.
  • Applying time-reversal acoustics (TRA) imaging techniques enhanced by nonlinear elasticity methods to localize and characterize defects (those that behave like nonlinear scatterers) in solid media. We have combined nonlinear elastic wave spectroscopy methods with TRA to implement an imaging method to selectively localize scatterers embedded within solid samples that add frequency-spectrum content to the probing elastic waves propagating throughout the sample itself by which they are excited. Those types of scatterers correspond to localized macro-fractures or distributed micro-cracks or dislocations in crystalline materials, as opposed to inclusions and interfaces behaving like linear scatterers.
  • Using Mossbauer spectroscopy for solid-state physics. Available at Los Alamos since 1959, this type of spectroscopy consists of the recoil-free emission and adsorption of gamma rays. This surprising nuclear physics event provides a powerful tool to study the environment of certain resonant Mossbauer nuclei in a variety of solid-state hosts. More than 90 γ-ray transitions in about 75 isotopes of over 42 different elements show some Mossbauer Effect (ME), but we currently are using only the 57Fe and 119Sn isotopes, mostly in natural abundance absorbers. Typical controlled variables are sample composition, temperature, pressure, and applied magnetic field. From the spectra of the ME nucleus in its environment, we may obtain detailed local information such as valence and spin states, magnetization, polarization, electric field gradient, lattice dynamics, phase transformations, and non-equivalent sites. Los Alamos has two cryostats equipped with ME spectrometers and ancillary equipment.
  • Using high-field magnets to perform UV-VIS-NIR optical spectroscopy. Techniques include standard photoluminescence, reflection, and absorption spectroscopy, as well as Faraday/Kerr rotation, magnetic circular dichroism, time-resolved PL, fluorescence line-narrowing, and ultrafast pump-probe studies. Depending on the experiment, temperatures from 300K down to 300mK are available, in a variety of magnetic fields that include (1) an 8T superconducting split-coil with direct optical access in both Faraday and Voigt geometry, (2) a 17T superconducting solenoid (access is usually via optical fiber), and (3) pulsed fields to ~90T (fiber access).
  • Performing photoelectron spectroscopy mainly to study the electron structure of 4f and 5f materials. Using high-energy and momentum-resolution analyzers, scientists perform Angle Resolved Photoemission studies of 4f materials and uranium compounds, using synchrotron radiation and He lamp as excitation sources. For transuranic materials, researchers employ a Laser Plasma Light Source and an angle-integrated analyzer. The first Angle-Resolved measurement system for transuranic materials came online in 2008. Los Alamos has the only transuranic ARPES (angle-resolved photoemission spectroscopy) capability in the world.
  • Using a broad range of analytical equipment to characterize materials for applications in weapons, energy and threat reduction. For example, Los Alamos scientists are using surface characterization and surface reaction chemistry on pit-manufacturing processes to assess the compatibility of processing materials with weapons components, measure the corrosion of weapons components during processing, and determine the efficacy of cleaning protocols for removing processing materials from weapons components. This work involves using X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, Auger electron spectroscopy, secondary ion mass spectrometry, thermal programmed desorption, Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy, electron-stimulated reaction/desorption, ion-sputtering depth profiling, and high-pressure reaction cells.
  • Using a variety of spectroscopic probes to characterize catalytic and reacting systems. Applications include biomass conversion, the study of chemical hydrogen storage systems, and weapons materials studies.
LANL Facilities and Resources
  • Materials Science Laboratory: This facility is dedicated to research on current materials and those of future interest. It is a 56,000-square-foot facility that can be easily reconfigures to accommodate new process and operations. In the area of spectroscopy, the Materials Science Laboratory accommodates various types, including Raman and Fourier transform infrared spectroscopies.
  • JEOL 840 Electron-Probe Microanalysis: This scanning electron microscope is fitted with three wavelength spectrometers and a total of eight crystals, covering the periodic table from beryllium to uranium. With appropriate standards quantitative measurements can be obtained on both light and heavy elements. Superior energy resolution and signal to background gives this quantitative technique an advantage over Energy Dispersive Spectrometry. There is also greater flexibility in choice of standards and ZAF correction schemes.
  • CINT—Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies: This facility houses a number of unique capabilities and includes a large, dedicated laboratory fully equipped for air-sensitive organic, organometallic, and colloidal synthesis, with a particular focus on nanowire materials. Conveniently located within the same building is the Single-nanostructure Spectroscopy Laboratory, a dedicated facility for both static and time-resolved spectroscopy and imaging of single nanostructures, including at low temperatures and under applied magnetic fields.
Key Personnel at LANL
  • Dominic S. Peterson: Fundamental polymer research
  • Victor Klimov: Advanced spectroscopy
  • R. Dean Taylor: Mossbauer spectroscopy for solid-state research
  • Scott Crooker: Optical spectroscopy
  • John J. Joyce: Photoelectron spectroscopy
  • Luc L. Daemen: Chemical spectroscopy and protein structures
Sponsors, Funding Sources, or Agencies
  • Department of Homeland Security
  • Department of Energy
  • Department of Defense
  • NASA
  • 2003 R&D 100 Award for CARISS
J.H. Rim, E.R. Gonzales, C.E. Armenta, K. Ünlü, and D.S. Peterson, “Developing and evaluating di(2-ethylhexyl) orthophosphoric acid (HDEHP) based polymer ligand film (PLF) for plutonium extraction,” Journal of Radioanalytical and Nuclear Chemistry, 1–5 (2012).
David E. Hobart, Dominic S. Peterson, Stosh A. Kozimor, Kevin S. Boland, Marianne P. Wilkerson, and Jeremy N. Mitchell, “Diffuse reflectance spectroscopy of plutonium metal, alloys, and compounds,” Plutonium Futures - The Science 2010, 61–62 (2010).
Dominic S. Peterson, Edward R. Gonzales, Crystal L. Tulley, Jaclyn A. Herrera, and Claudine E. Armenta, “Pre-concentration and analysis of plutonium from solutions using polymer ligand films,” Plutonium Futures - The Science 2010, 68–69 (201).
Donivan R. Porterfield, Lav Tandon, Alexander A. Plionis, David J. Mercer, Dominic S. Peterson, and John D. Auxier II, “One-dimensional mapping of gamma emitting radionuclides in support of forensic examination,” Journal of Radioanalytical and Nuclear Chemistry 282(3), 865–868 (2009).
Lav Tandon, Kevin Kuhn, Patrick Martinez, Joseph Banar, Laurie Walker, Terry Hahn, David Beddingfield, Donivan Porterfield, Steven Myers, and Stephen Lamont, et al., “Establishing reactor operations from uranium targets used for the production of plutonium,” Journal of Radioanalytical and Nuclear Chemistry 282(2), 573–579 (2009).
Edward R. Gonzáles and Dominic S. Peterson, “Rapid radiochemical sample preparation for alpha spectrometry using polymer ligand films,” Journal of Radioanalytical and Nuclear Chemistry 282(2), 543–547 (2009).
Lav Tandon, Kevin Kuhn, Diana Decker, Donivan Porterfield, Kenneth Laintz, Amy Wong, Michael Holland, and Dominic S. Peterson, “Plutonium metal standards exchange program for actinide measurement quality assurance (2001-2007),” Journal of Radioanalytical and Nuclear Chemistry 282(2), 565–571 (2009).
Dominic S. Peterson and Velma M. Montoya, “Separation of actinides using capillary extraction chromatography-inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry,” Journal of Chromatographic Science 47(7), 545–548 (2009).
Alexander A. Plionis, Edward R. Gonzales, Sheldon Landsberger, and Dominic S. Peterson, “Evaluation of flow scintillation analysis for the determination of Sr-90 in bioassay samples,” Applied Radiation and Isotopes 67(1), 14–20 (2009).
A.A. Plionis, S.R. Garcia, E.R. Gonzales, D.R. Porterfield, and D.S. Peterson, “Replacement of lead bricks with non-hazardous polymer-bismuth for low-energy gamma shielding,” Journal of Radioanalytical and Nuclear Chemistry, 1–4 (2009).
Alexander A. Plionis, Dominic S. Peterson, and Edward R. Gonzales, “Evaluation of FSA for determining 90Sr in bioassay samples,” Transactions of the American Nuclear Society 98, 435–436 (2008).

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