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Elemental analysis

Elemental analysis is a process where a sample of some material (e.g., soil, waste or drinking water, bodily fluids, minerals, chemical compounds) is analyzed for its elemental and sometimes isotopic composition. Elemental analysis can be qualitative (determining what elements are present), and it can be quantitative (determining how much of each are present). Elemental analysis falls within the ambit of analytical chemistry, the set of instruments involved in decyphering the chemical nature of our world.

For synthetic chemists, elemental analysis or "EA" almost always refers to CHNX analysis — the determination of the percentage weights of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and heteroatoms (X) (halogens, sulfur) of a sample. This information is important to help determine the structure of an unknown compound, as well as to help prove the structure and purity of a synthesized compound.


The most common form of elemental analysis, CHN analysis, is accomplished by combustion analysis. In this technique, a sample is burned in an excess of oxygen, and various traps collect the combustion products — carbon dioxide, water, and nitric oxide. The weights of these combustion products can be used to calculate the composition of the unknown sample.

Other quantitative methods include:

  • Gravimetry, where the sample is dissolved and then the element of interest is precipitated and its mass measured or the element of interest is volatilized and the mass loss is measured.
  • Optical atomic spectroscopy, such as flame atomic absorption, graphite furnace atomic absorption, and inductively coupled plasma atomic emission, which probe the outer electronic structure of atoms.

To qualitatively determine which elements exist in a sample, methods include:

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Elemental_analysis". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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