Noble Gas Lab

The Noble Gas Laboratory (NGL) at the University of Michigan is currently dedicated to analyzing all stable noble gas (He, Ne, Ar, Kr, Xe) abundances and their respective isotopic ratios in a variety of fluids, including freshwater (groundwater, surface water, rainwater), ice, snow, brines, shale gas, and gas from hydrothermal systems.

The laboratory is equipped with two Thermo Scientific mass spectrometers recently acquired and funded by the National Science Foundation Instrumentation and Facilities Program (EAR/IF #1049822); a Helix SFT for measurement of He and Ne isotopes, and an Argus VI for measurement of Ar, Kr and Xe. The laboratory is also equipped with a noble gas extraction and purification line with 6 loading ports for samples. This includes a double-head cryotrap which allows for simultaneous separation of He and Ne in a “low-temperature” chamber while Ar, Kr and Xe are separated in the “high-temperature” chamber. The purification system includes 4 titanium sponge getters and one CuO getter for hydrocarbon-rich samples. In addition, a quadrupole (Extorr XT200) is mounted on the line which allows for measurement of major gases (e.g., CO2, H2O, CH4, N2) contained within the samples. Measurements of noble gases from fluid samples are carried out simultaneously on the Helix SFT and the Argus VI. The Helix SFT is specifically designed to analyze 3He and 4He in multi-collection mode, where separate detectors can measure different isotopes simultaneously. Multi-collection in the Argus VI is also used for measurement of Ar, Kr and Xe isotopes.

Once the gases have been extracted from a sample, all clean up and cryogenic separation procedures are handled by a fully automatic computer controlled system. The computer that controls the gas extraction bench is running under Labview control which allows the user to fully manually control the extraction bench, while another computer acts as a master computer as it not only controls the extraction bench but it also commands the two mass spectrometers via an internal Ethernet network. The entire system is coordinated by multi-threaded control software from the master computer, which allows for gas processing and data collection on the extraction bench and the two separate mass spectrometers simultaneously.

Within the next few months, the NGL will be also equipped with extraction and purification lines for measurement of all noble gases in rocks. These systems will include a precise temperature control furnace for diffusion studies; a high temperature vacuum furnace for the complete extraction of all noble gases from virtually any geological material; and an in vacuum crusher for the analysis of noble gases in fluid inclusions.

External Services

Commercial measurements of all stable noble gases are available for a fee. For information on analysis costs, please contact Prof. Clara Castro (

New Noble Gas extraction and purification line (May 2017)

New Noble Gas extraction and purification line and
double head cryotrap (May 2017)
  Helix SFT

  Argus VI

  Double head cryotrap (May 2017)