It is generally accepted that an analytical procedure can be regarded as an information production system yielding information on the composition of the analyzed sample. Thus, information theory can be useful and the quantities characterizing the information properties of an analytical method may be applied not only as evaluation criteria but also as objective functions in the optimization. The usability of information theory is demonstrated on the example of neutron activation analysis. Both precision and bias of NAA results are taken into account together with the possible use of reference materials for quality assessment. The influence of the above-mentioned parameters on information properties such as information gain and profitability of NAA results is discussed in detail. It has been proved that information theory is especially useful in choosing suitable reference materials for the quality assessment of routine analytical procedures not only with respect to matrix and analyte concentration in the sample but also to concentrations and uncertainties of certified values in the CRM used. In the extreme trace analysis, CRMs with relatively large uncertainties and very low certified concentrations can still yield rather high information gain of results.
Information properties of analytical results together with other important parameters especially economic ones can be used for the optimization of analytical procedures. Therefore, we have proposed a computational technique for the optimization of multielement neutron activation analysis (NAA) based on the information content and profitability. The optimization starts with the prediction of the -ray spectra to be expected during analysis under given experimental conditions (sample size, irradiation, decay and counting times etc.) and with the calculation of detection and determination limits. In the next step, the information contents for the determination of particular elements and for the simultaneous determination of element groups are computed. The information content depends or is closely connected with such properties of the method as selectivity, sensitivity, precision, accuracy and, as in the other cases of trace analysis, also with the detection limit. Then, the information profitability (IP) taking into account the information content and relevance (appreciation of specific information according to its contribution to the solution of a given problem) together with economic aspects can be calculated. This function can be used for the optimization of a particular NAA procedure, for the mutual comparison of different variants of NAA and also for the comparison with other analytical methods. The use of information profitability for the optimization of NAA is shown on a practical example of the INAA analysis of urban particulate matter SRM 1648 produced by NBS (USA).