Mass Spectrometry

Mass spectrometry (MS) is an analytical technique that measures the mass-to-charge ratio of charged particles. It is used for determining masses of particles, for determining the elemental composition of a sample or molecule, and for elucidating the chemical structures of molecules, such as peptides and other chemical compounds. MS works by ionizing chemical compounds to generate charged molecules or molecule fragments and measuring their mass-to-charge ratios. In a typical MS procedure:

  1. A sample is loaded onto the mass spectrometer, and undergoes vaporization
  2. The components of the sample are ionized by one of a variety of methods (e.g., by impacting them with an electron beam), which results in the formation of charged particles (ions)
  3. The ions are separated according to their mass-to-charge ratio in an analyzer by electromagnetic fields
  4. The ions are detected, usually by a quantitative method
  5. The ion signal is processed into mass spectra

MS instruments consist of three modules:

  • An ion source, which can convert gas phase sample molecules into ions (or, in the case of electrospray ionization, move ions that exist in solution into the gas phase)
  • A mass analyzer, which sorts the ions by their masses by applying electromagnetic fields
  • A detector, which measures the value of an indicator quantity and thus provides data for calculating the abundances of each ion present

The technique has both qualitative and quantitative uses. These include identifying unknown compounds, determining the isotopic composition of elements in a molecule, and determining the structure of a compound by observing its fragmentation. Other uses include quantifying the amount of a compound in a sample or studying the fundamentals of gas phase ion chemistry (the chemistry of ions and neutrals in a vacuum). MS is now in very common use in analytical laboratories that study physical, chemical, or biological properties of a great variety of compounds.

Read more about Mass Spectrometry:  Etymology, History, Simplified Example, Creating Ions, Mass Selection, Detectors, Tandem Mass Spectrometry, Common Mass Spectrometer Configurations and Techniques, Chromatographic Techniques Combined With Mass Spectrometry

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