Multiwavelength Ablation/Ionization and Mass Spectrometric Analysis of 1.88 Ga Gunflint Chert

Rustam A. Lukmanov, Marek Tulej, Reto Wiesendanger, Andreas Riedo, Valentine Grimaudo, Niels F.W. Ligterink, Coenraad de Koning, Anna Neubeck, David Wacey, Peter Wurz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


The investigation of chemical composition on planetary bodies without significant sample processing is of importance for nearly every mission aimed at robotic exploration. Moreover, it is a necessary tool to achieve the longstanding goal of finding evidence of life beyond Earth, for example, possibly preserved microbial remains within martian sediments. Our Laser Ablation Ionization Mass Spectrometer (LIMS) is a compact time-of-flight mass spectrometer intended to investigate the elemental, isotope, and molecular composition of a wide range of solid samples, including e.g., low bulk density organic remains in microfossils. Here, we present an overview of the instrument and collected chemical spectrometric data at the micrometer level from a Precambrian chert sample (1.88 Ga Gunflint Formation, Ontario, Canada), which is considered to be a martian analogue. Data were collected from two distinct zones-a silicified host area and a carbon-bearing microfossil assemblage zone. We performed these measurements using an ultrafast pulsed laser system (pulse width of ∼180 fs) with multiple wavelengths (infrared [IR]-775 nm, ultraviolet [UV]-387 nm, UV-258 nm) and using a pulsed high voltage on the mass spectrometer to reveal small organic signals. We investigated (1) the chemical composition of the sample and (2) the different laser wavelengths' performance to provide chemical depth profiles in silicified media. Our key findings are as follows: (1) microfossils from the Gunflint chert reveal a distinct chemical composition compared with the host mineralogy (we report the identification of 24 elements in the microfossils); (2) detection of the pristine composition of microfossils and co-occurring fine chemistry (rare earth elements) requires utilization of the depth profiling measurement protocol; and (3) our results show that, for analysis of heterogeneous material from siliciclastic deposits, siliceous sinters, and cherts, the most suitable wavelength for laser ablation/Ionization is UV-258 nm.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)369-386
Number of pages18
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2022


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