A Nuclear Physics Technique for Detecting Trace Elements in People, Archeological Artifacts, Eagles and More

Dr. Michelle Arnold
Physics Department
Weber State University


X-ray fluorescence (XRF) can be used to non-invasively measure trace amounts of elements.  Typically a radioactive source is used to excite the atoms of interest in the sample, and as the electrons in the atoms de-excite, the characteristic x-rays emitted can be detected outside the sample.  XRF can be used to measure elements such as lead, arsenic, gold, silver, copper, etc.  The non-invasive nature of this technique makes it particularly advantageous for measuring humans for toxicology reasons, as well as artifacts and other samples which can not be destroyed in any way.  A summary of the field of XRF, focusing on current research being conducted at Weber State will be presented.