A systematic study has been performed on the spectral characteristics of the full spectrum of He emission lines and their time-dependent behaviors measured from the He gas plasmas generated by a nanosecond neodymium-doped yttrium aluminum garnet laser. It is shown that among the major emission lines observed, the triplet He(I) 587.6 nm emission line stands out as the most prominent and long-lasting line, associated with de-excitation of the metastable triplet (S = 1) excited state (1s1 3d1). The role of this metastable excited state is manifested in the intensity enhancement and prolonged life time of the Cu emission with narrow full width half-maximum, as demonstrated in an orthogonal double-pulse experiment using a picosecond laser for the target ablation and a nanosecond laser for the prior generation of the ambient He gas plasma. These desirable emission features are in dire contrast to the characteristics of emission spectra observed with N2 ambient gas having no metastable excited state, which exhibit an initial Stark broadening effect and rapid intensity diminution typical to thermal shock wave-induced emission. The aforementioned He metastable excited state is therefore responsible for the demonstrated favorable features. The advantage of using He ambient gas in the double-pulse setup is further confirmed by the emission spectra measured from a variety of samples. The results of this study have thus shown the potential of extending the existing laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy application to high-sensitivity and high-resolution spectrochemical analysis of wide-ranging samples with minimal destructive effect on the sample surface.

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