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Mass spectrometry

Mass spectrometry (MS) is an analytical technique that ionizes chemical species and sorts the ions based on their mass-to-charge ratio. In simpler terms, a mass spectrum measures the masses within a sample. Mass spectrometry is used in many different fields and is applied to pure samples as well as complex mixtures. A mass spectrum is a plot of the ion signal as a function of the mass-to-charge ratio. These spectra are used to determine the elemental or isotopic signature of a sample, the masses of particles and of molecules, and to elucidate the chemical structures of molecules, such as peptides and other chemical compounds. In a typical MS procedure, a sample, which may be solid, liquid, or gas, is ionized, for example by bombarding it with electrons. This may cause some of the sample's molecules to break into charged fragments. These ions are then separated according to their mass-to-charge ratio, typically by accelerating them and subjecting them to an electric or magnetic field: ions of the same mass-to-charge ratio will undergo the same amount of deflection. The ions are detected by a mechanism capable of detecting charged particles, such as an electron multiplier. Results are displayed as spectra of the relative abundance of detected ions as a function of the mass-to-charge ratio. The atoms or molecules in the sample can be identified by correlating known masses to the identified masses or through a characteristic fragmentation pattern.


's third mass spectrometer.]] In 1886, Eugen Goldstein observed rays in gas discharges under low pressure that traveled away from the anode and through channels in a perforated cathode, opposite to the direction of negatively charged cathode rays (which travel from cathode to anode). Goldstein called these positively charged anode rays "Kanalstrahlen"; the standard translation of this term into English is " canal rays". Wilhelm Wien found that strong electric or magnetic fields deflected the canal rays and, in 1899, constructed a device with perpendicular electric and magnetic fields that separated the positive rays according to their charge-to-mass ratio (Q/m). Wien found that the charge-to-mass ratio depended on the nature of the gas in the discharge tube. English scientist J.J. Thomson later improved on the work of Wien by reducing the pressure to create the mass spectrograph. for uranium enrichment.]] The word spectrograph had become part of the international scientific vocabulary by 1884." Definition of spectrograph." Merriam Webster. Accessed 13 June 2008. Early spectrometry devices that measured the mass-to-charge ratio of ions were called mass spectrographs which consisted of instruments that recorded a spectrum of mass values on a photographic plate. A mass spectroscope is similar to a mass spectrograph except that the beam of ions is directed onto a phosphor screen. A mass spectroscope configuration was used in early instruments when it was desired that the effects of adjustments be quickly observed. Once the instrument was properly adjusted, a photographic plate was inserted and exposed. The term mass spectroscope continued to be used even though the direct illumination of a phosphor screen was replaced by indirect measurements with an oscilloscope. The use of the term mass spectroscopy is now discouraged due to the possibility of confusion with light spectroscopy. Mass spectrometry is often abbreviated as mass-spec or simply as MS. Modern techniques of mass spectrometry were devised by Arthur Jeffrey Dempster and F.W. Aston in 1918 and 1919 respectively. Sector mass spectrometers known as calutrons were developed by Ernest O. Lawrence and used for separating the isotopes of uranium during the Manhattan Project. Calutron mass spectrometers were used for uranium enrichment at the Oak Ridge, Tennessee Y-12 plant established during World War II. In 1989, half of the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Hans Dehmelt and Wolfgang Paul for the development of the ion trap technique in the 1950s and 1960s. In 2002, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to John Bennett Fenn for the development of electrospray ionization (ESI) and Koichi Tanaka for the development of soft laser desorption (SLD) and their application to the ionization of biological macromolecules, especially proteins.

Parts of a mass spectrometer

A mass spectrometer consists of three components: an ion source, a mass analyzer, and a detector. The ionizer converts a portion of the sample into ions. There is a wide variety of ionization techniques, depending on the phase (solid, liquid, gas) of the sample and the efficiency of various ionization mechanisms for the unknown species. An extraction system removes ions from the sample, which are then targeted through the mass analyzer and onto the detector. The differences in masses of the fragments allows the mass analyzer to sort the ions by their mass-to-charge ratio. The detector measures the value of an indicator quantity and thus provides data for calculating the abundances of each ion present. Some detectors also give spatial information, e.g., a multichannel plate.

Theoretical example

The following example describes the operation of a spectrometer mass analyzer, which is of the sector type. (Other analyzer types are treated below.) Consider a sample of sodium chloride (table salt). In the ion source, the sample is vaporized (turned into gas) and ionized (transformed into electrically charged particles) into sodium (Na+) and chloride (Cl−) ions. Sodium atoms and ions are monoisotopic, with a mass of about 23 u. Chloride atoms and ions come in two isotopes with masses of approximately 35 u (at a natural abundance of about 75 percent) and approximately 37 u (at a natural abundance of about 25 percent). The analyzer part of the spectrometer contains electric and magnetic fields, which exert forces on ions traveling through these fields. The speed of a charged particle may be increased or decreased while passing through the electric field, and its direction may be altered by the magnetic field. The magnitude of the deflection of the moving ion's trajectory depends on its mass-to-charge ratio. Lighter ions get deflected by the magnetic force more than heavier ions (based on Newton's second law of motion, F = ma). The streams of sorted ions pass from the analyzer to the detector, which records the relative abundance of each ion type. This information is used to determine the chemical element composition of the original sample (i.e. that both sodium and chlorine are present in the sample) and the isotopic composition of its constituents (the ratio of 35Cl to 37Cl).

Creating ions

source at the Argonne National Laboratory linear accelerator.]] The ion source is the part of the mass spectrometer that ionizes the material under analysis (the analyte). The ions are then transported by magnetic or electric fields to the mass analyzer. Techniques for ionization have been key to determining what types of samples can be analyzed by mass spectrometry. Electron ionization and chemical ionization are used for gases and vapors. In chemical ionization sources, the analyte is ionized by chemical ion-molecule reactions during collisions in the source. Two techniques often used with liquid and solid biological samples include electrospray ionization (invented by John Fenn) and matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization (MALDI, initially developed as a similar technique "Soft Laser Desorption (SLD)" by K. Tanaka for which a Nobel Prize was awarded and as MALDI by M. Karas and F. Hillenkamp ).

Hard ionization and soft ionization

In mass spectrometry, ionization refers to the production of gas phase ions suitable for resolution in the mass analyser or mass filter. Ionization occurs in the ion source. There are several ion sources available; each has advantages and disadvantages for particular applications. For example, electron ionization (EI) gives a high degree of fragmentation, yielding highly detailed mass spectra which when skilfully analysed can provide important information for structural elucidation/characterisation and facilitate identification of unknown compounds by comparison to mass spectral libraries obtained under identical operating conditions. However, EI is not suitable for coupling to HPLC, i.e. LC-MS, since at atmospheric pressure, the filaments used to generate electrons burn out rapidly. Thus EI is coupled predominantly with GC, i.e. GC-MS, where the entire system is under high vacuum. Hard ionization techniques are processes which impart high quantities of residual energy in the subject molecule invoking large degrees of fragmentation (i.e. the systematic rupturing of bonds acts to remove the excess energy, restoring stability to the resulting ion). Resultant ions tend to have m/z lower than the molecular mass (other than in the case of proton transfer and not including isotope peaks). The most common example of hard ionization is electron ionization (EI). Soft ionization refers to the processes which impart little residual energy onto the subject molecule and as such result in little fragmentation. Examples include fast atom bombardment (FAB), chemical ionization (CI), atmospheric-pressure chemical ionization (APCI), electrospray ionization (ESI), and matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization (MALDI).

Inductively coupled plasma

Inductively coupled plasma (ICP) sources are used primarily for cation analysis of a wide array of sample types. In this source, a plasma that is electrically neutral overall, but that has had a substantial fraction of its atoms ionized by high temperature, is used to atomize introduced sample molecules and to further strip the outer electrons from those atoms. The plasma is usually generated from argon gas, since the first ionization energy of argon atoms is higher than the first of any other elements except He, O, F and Ne, but lower than the second ionization energy of all except the most electropositive metals. The heating is achieved by a radio-frequency current passed through a coil surrounding the plasma.

Other ionization techniques

Others include photoionization, glow discharge, field desorption (FD), fast atom bombardment (FAB), thermospray, desorption/ionization on silicon (DIOS), Direct Analysis in Real Time (DART), atmospheric pressure chemical ionization (APCI), secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS), spark ionization and thermal ionization (TIMS).

Mass selection

Mass analyzers separate the ions according to their mass-to-charge ratio. The following two laws govern the dynamics of charged particles in electric and magnetic fields in vacuum: \mathbf{F} = Q (\mathbf{E} + \mathbf{v} \times \mathbf{B}) ( Lorentz force law); \mathbf{F}=m\mathbf{a} ( Newton's second law of motion in non-relativistic case, i.e. valid only at ion velocity much lower than the speed of light). Here F is the force applied to the ion, m is the mass of the ion, a is the acceleration, Q is the ion charge, E is the electric field, and v × B is the vector cross product of the ion velocity and the magnetic field Equating the above expressions for the force applied to the ion yields: (m/Q)\mathbf{a} = \mathbf{E}+ \mathbf{v} \times \mathbf{B}. This differential equation is the classic equation of motion for charged particles. Together with the particle's initial conditions, it completely determines the particle's motion in space and time in terms of m/Q. Thus mass spectrometers could be thought of as "mass-to-charge spectrometers". When presenting data, it is common to use the (officially) dimensionless m/z, where z is the number of elementary charges (e) on the ion (z=Q/e). This quantity, although it is informally called the mass-to-charge ratio, more accurately speaking represents the ratio of the mass number and the charge number, z. There are many types of mass analyzers, using either static or dynamic fields, and magnetic or electric fields, but all operate according to the above differential equation. Each analyzer type has its strengths and weaknesses. Many mass spectrometers use two or more mass analyzers for tandem mass spectrometry (MS/MS). In addition to the more common mass analyzers listed below, there are others designed for special situations. There are several important analyser characteristics. The mass resolving power is the measure of the ability to distinguish two peaks of slightly different m/z. The mass accuracy is the ratio of the m/z measurement error to the true m/z. Mass accuracy is usually measured in ppm or milli mass units. The mass range is the range of m/z amenable to analysis by a given analyzer. The linear dynamic range is the range over which ion signal is linear with analyte concentration. Speed refers to the time frame of the experiment and ultimately is used to determine the number of spectra per unit time that can be generated.

Sector instruments

A sector field mass analyzer uses a static electric and/or magnetic field to affect the path and/or velocity of the charged particles in some way. As shown above, sector instruments bend the trajectories of the ions as they pass through the mass analyzer, according to their mass-to-charge ratios, deflecting the more charged and faster-moving, lighter ions more. The analyzer can be used to select a narrow range of m/z or to scan through a range of m/z to catalog the ions present.


The time-of-flight (TOF) analyzer uses an electric field to accelerate the ions through the same potential, and then measures the time they take to reach the detector. If the particles all have the same charge, the kinetic energies will be identical, and their velocities will depend only on their masses. Ions with a lower mass will reach the detector first.In the event that the ions do not start at identical kinetic energies, some ions may lag behind higher kinetic energy ions decreasing resolution. Reflectron geometries are commonly employed to correct this problem.
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This article based upon the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass_spectrometry, the free encyclopaedia Wikipedia and is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.
Further informations available on the list of authors and history: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Mass_spectrometry&action=history
presented by: Ingo Malchow, Mirower Bogen 22, 17235 Neustrelitz, Germany