Abstract A new functionalized mesoporous silica (MCM-41) using salicylaldehyde was utilized for the separation, preconcentration and determination of uranium in natural water by inductively coupled plasma atomic emission spectrometry (ICP-AES). Experimental conditions for effective adsorption of trace levels of U(VI) were optimized. The preconcentration factor was 100 (1.0 mL of elution for a 100 mL sample volume). The analytical curve was linear in the range 2–1000 μg L −1 and the detection limit was 0.5 ng mL −1. The relative standard deviation (R.S.D.) under optimum conditions was 2.5% ( n = 10). Common coexisting ions did not interfere with the separation and determination of uranium at pH 5. The sorbent exhibited excellent stability and its sorption capacity under optimum conditions has been found to be 10 mg of uranium per gram of sorbent. The method was applied for the recovery and determination of uranium in different water samples.