We studied a new approach to cell ashing based on illuminating the specimens with a low-pressure mercury discharge lamp. We analyzed with synchrotron spectromicroscopy its effects on different physiological elements in neurobiological specimens. Our results demonstrate that carbon is removed, whereas phosphorus, calcium, potassium, and sulfur are retained and their relative concentrations are enhanced. Applied to trace elements, this technique will enhance their practical detectability. (C) 1999 Academic Press.