A new atomization device for direct atomic spectrochemical analysis has been developed that uses the theta-pinch configuration to generate a pulsed, high-energy-density plasma at atmospheric pressure. Energy from a 20-kV, 6.05-μF capacitive electrical discharge was inductively coupled to a sacrificial aluminum thin film to produce a cylindrical plasma. Current waveform analysis indicates an average power dissipation of 0.5 MW in the plasma. Electromagnetic modeling studies were used to identify theta-pinch designs possessing characteristics favorable to both plasma initiation and plasma heating. The discharge was most robust when the induced current and rate of magnetic field change were maximized. Minimizing the ratio of the coil's width to its radius was also critical. Counter to intuition, a larger diameter was found to be more successful. Spectroscopic studies indicate that the discharge forms a heterogeneous plasma with a dense, cylindrical plasma sheet confined by the walls of the discharge tube surrounding a less energetic plasma in the center. Al(II) emission in the outer plasma cylinder was temporally aligned with the induced current whereas in the center it aligns with the magnetic field. Ionization of support gas species (Ar, He, and air) was not observed, although the identity of the gas had a significant influence on the plasma reproducibility. The optimized design utilized a 5.5-turn, 19-mm-diameter theta coil with argon as the support gas. Sb(I) emission from an antimony oxide solid powder sample deposited on the thin film was observed primarily in the outer part of the plasma. Analyte emission shows contributions from magnetic compression early in the discharge and from the induced current late in the discharge. The discharge produced analytically useful signals from solid antimony oxide samples. Using spatially and temporally resolved detection, the line-to-background ratio for Sb(I) was found to be greater than 4 for emission integrated from 55 to 120 μs.
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