Thursday, February 26, 2009

Mass Spectrometer (MS)

Below is a general schematic of a mass spectrometer. The blue line illustrates ions of a particular mass/charge ratio which reach the detector at a certain voltage combination. All mass spectrometers consist of three distinct regions.
1) Ionizer 2) Ion Analyzer 3) Detector

In the GC-MS discussed in this introduction, the charged particles (ions) required for mass analysis are formed by Electron Impact (EI) Ionization. The gas molecules exiting the GC are bombarded by a high-energy electron beam (70 eV). An electron which strikes a molecule may impart enough energy to remove another electron from that molecule. Methanol, for example, would undergo the following reaction in the ionizing region:

EI Ionization usually produces singly charged ions containing one unpaired electron. A charged molecule which remains intact is called the molecular ion. Energy imparted by the electron impact and, more importantly, instability in a molecular ion can cause that ion to break into smaller pieces (fragments). The methanol ion may fragment in various ways, with one fragment carrying the charge and one fragment remaining uncharged. For example:

Ion Analyzer

Molecular ions and fragment ions are accelerated by manipulation of the charged particles through the mass spectrometer. Uncharged molecules and fragments are pumped away. The quadrupole mass analyzer in this example uses positive (+) and negative (-) voltages to control the path of the ions. Ions travel down the path based on their mass to charge ratio (m/z). EI ionization produces singly charged particles, so the charge (z) is one. Therefore an ion's path will depend on its mass. If the (+) and (-) rods shown in the mass spectrometer schematic were �fixed' at a particular rf/dc voltage ratio, then one particular m/z would travel the successful path shown by the solid line to the detector. However, voltages are not fixed, but are scanned so that ever increasing masses can find a successful path through the rods to the detector.

There are many types of detectors, but most work by producing an electronic signal when struck by an ion. Timing mechanisms which integrate those signals with the scanning voltages allow the instrument to report which m/z strikes the detector. The mass analyzer sorts the ions according to m/z and the detector records the abundance of each m/z. Regular calibration of the m/z scale is necessary to maintain accuracy in the instrument. Calibration is performed by introducing a well known compound into the instrument and "tweaking" the circuits so that the compound's molecular ion and fragment ions are reported accurately.

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