An instrument for analyzing a sample has an enclosure that forms a chamber containing an anode which divides the chamber into a discharge region and an analysis region. A gas inlet and outlet are provided to introduce and exhaust a rare gas into the discharge region. A cathode within the discharge region has a plurality of pins projecting in a geometric pattern toward the anode for exciting the gas and producing a plasma discharge between the cathode and the anode. Low energy electrons (e.g. <0.5 eV) pass into the analysis region through an aperture. The sample to be analyzed is placed into the analysis region and bombarded by the metastable rare gas atoms and the low energy electrons extracted into from the discharge region. A mass or optical spectrometer can be coupled to a port of the analysis region to analyze the resulting ions and light emission.
This invention was made with government support under contract DE-AC05-960R22464 awarded by the U.S. Department of Energy to Lockheed Martin Energy Research Corporation, and the United States Government has certain rights in this invention.