||This article may be too technical for most readers to understand. (September 2010)|
Thermal ionization, also known as surface ionization, refers to the process whereby a chemically purified material is placed onto a filament which is then heated to high temperatures to cause some of the material to be ionized as it is thermally desorbed (boiled off) the hot filament. Filaments are generally flat pieces of metal around 1-2mm wide, 0.1mm thick, bent into an upside-down U shape and attached to two contacts that supply a current.
Saha-Langmuir equation 
- = ratio of ion number density to neutral number density
- = ratio of statistical weights (degeneracy) of ionic (g_+) and neutral (g_0) states
- = surface work function
- IP = element ionization potential
- T = surface temperature
Thermal ionization mass spectrometry 
One application of thermal ionization is thermal ionization mass spectrometry (TIMS). This method is widely used in radiometric dating, where the sample is ionized under vacuum. The ions being produced at the filament are focussed into an ion beam and then passed through a magnetic field to separate them by mass. The relative abundances of different isotopes can then be measured, yielding isotope ratios.
When these isotope ratios are measured by TIMS, mass-dependent fractionation occurs as species are emitted by the hot filament. Fractionation occurs due to the excitation of the sample and therefore must be corrected for accurate measurement of the isotope ratio.
There are several advantages of the TIMS method. It has a simple design, is less expensive than other mass spectrometers, and produces stable ion emissions. It requires a stable power supply, and is suitable for species with a low ionization energy, such as Strontium (Sr), and Lead (Pb).
The disadvantages of this method stem from the maximum temperature achieved in thermal ionization. The hot filament reaches a temperature of less than 2500 degrees Celsius, leading to the inability to create atomic ions of species with a high ionization energy, such as Osmium (Os), and Tungsten (Hf-W). Although the TIMS method can create molecular ions instead in this case, species with high ionization energy can be analyzed more effectively with MC-ICP-MS.
See also 
- Dresser, M. J. (January 1968). "The Saha-Langmuir Equation and its Application" (PDF). Journal of Applied Physics 39 (1): 338–339. Bibcode:1968JAP....39..338D. doi:10.1063/1.1655755. Retrieved 2007-10-11.
- Dickin, A.P., 2005. Radiogenic Isotope Geology 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 21-22