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There are limited technologies and instrumentation currently available to analyze rare earth elements. These include inductively coupled plasma spectroscopy (ICP) methods (e.g., ICP-mass spectrometry or ICP-optical emission spectrometry), UV-visible spectrophotometry, and optical sensors. However, these methods require expensive instruments, lengthy protocols, and cannot be performed in-field. Samples must often be shipped to dedicated analytical labs for analysis.  There is a need for a practical, cost-effective instrument that could be used in the field.


LLNL researchers have discovered that some inexpensive and commercially available molecules used for other applications, could render certain lanthanide and actinide elements highly fluorescent. These molecules are not sold for applications involving the detection of REEs and actinides via fluorescence. They are instead used as additives in cosmetic products and/or in the pharmaceutical industry. The study of their fluorescence properties with REE revealed that these compounds could be used to develop fluorescence-based detection of REEs and, certain actinides (e.g. americium). Although not tested with curium, based on current chemical knowledge of this actinide element, it is highly probable that the system will also work for curium.

  • The compounds used in this novel detection method are inexpensive and commercially available.
  • The method does not require expensive instrumentation.
  • The protocols are simple and fast.
  • The method is highly sensitive; it can detect REEs at very low levels.
  • The method can be used in the field.
Potential Applications
  • Detection of rare earth elements (REEs)
  • Detection of actinides (e.g. americium, curium)
  • Detection of certain metals
  • Applications related to fluorescence (chemistry, process monitoring, mining, environmental science, analysis, lighting, decoration)
Development Status

Current stage of technology development:  TRL 3

LLNL has filed for patent protection on this invention.

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