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Mass Spectrometry

Mass spectrometry is an analytical technique that is used to quantify known materials, identify unknown compounds, and elucidate structural and physical properties of molecules.  Scientists use mass spectrometry to weigh molecules.  Molecules are extremely small and cannot be weighed in the traditional sense on a scale.  To give you an estimate of the size of a molecule of water, it would take approximately 60,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 water molecules to fill a tablespoon. We refer to the weight of a molecule as its mass which can be measured “electronically” by using a mass spectrometer.  Mass spectrometers are used in many laboratories throughout the world to analyze thousands of compounds such as those present in our bodies, our environment, our medicines, manufactured materials, foods, poisons, and criminal evidence.  Mass spectrometry is associated with very high speed, sensitivity, and specificity.  This means that compounds of interest can rapidly be identified at very low concentrations in chemically complex mixtures. Mass spectrometry provides valuable information to a wide range of professionals including chemists, biologists, physicians, and astronomers.

Our Research

Nano-flow UPLC
Our research in the area of analytical mass spectrometry focuses on the development and application of new, effective, and convenient techniques for characterization of chemical components of complex mixtures typically found in environmental and biological samples.  Our strategy for improving the existing analytical methods is coupling mass spectrometry with nano-flow Ultra-high Performance Liquid Chromatography (UPLC) (pictured here) and High Field Asymmetric Waveform Ion Mobility Spectrometry (FAIMS).

Complementary Techniques

FAIMS device beside a QTOF-MS
The nano-flow UPLC is a recently developed liquid separation technique which provides extremely high separation efficiency.  The FAIMS, on the other hand, is a gas-phase separation method which is capable of separating ions on the basis of how the ions move in the presence of an alternating electrical field.  By placing a FAIMS device at the front end of a mass spectrometer, the selectivity, sensitivity and available spectral information can be increased dramatically.  In some instances, the improvement is so significant that the FAIMS system has been called the “Hubble Telescope” of mass spectrometry.
In our research, we have a tremendous opportunity to use these “state-of-art” separation techniques with combination of Quadrupole Time of Flight (QTOF) and Quadrupole Ion Trap (QIT) mass spectrometry to investigate the gas-phase chemistry of a wide range of environmental pollutants and intriguing biomarkers.  The information from such fundamental studies is critical for developing new mass spectrometry methods for rapid, sensitive, and comprehensive characterization of new classes of contaminants in drinking water and biomarkers in biological samples.
Quadrupole Ion Trap Mass Spectrometer (QIT-MS)
Quadrupole Ion Trap Mass Spectrometer (QIT-MS)
Quadrupole Time of Flight Mass Spectrometer (QTOF-MS)
Quadrupole Time of Flight Mass Spectrometer (QTOF-MS)