Mass Spectrometry

Last Updated: June 14, 2018

Definition - What does Mass Spectrometry mean?

Mass spectrometry is an analytic technique that involves ionization and the mass analysis of compounds so as to find out their mass, structure and formula of the compound that is being examined. A mass analyzer is the part of the mass spectrometer that takes the masses that have been ionized and separates them with respect to their charge to mass (m/z) ratios and sends them to a detector where they are detected and transformed into a legible digital output.

This technique is mostly used in laboratory analysis to screen for metabolites in biological systems and drug detection to determine the structures of metabolites and drugs. It is also used in clinical testing to detect biomarkers of some diseases (for instance when screening form metabolic diseases in newborns) and to carry out forensic analysis for example in the confirmation of abuse of drugs. In environmental science, it can be used for the detection of food contamination or the quality of water while in geology it can be used for carbon dating or measuring the composition of petroleum.

WorkplaceTesting explains Mass Spectrometry

In mass spectrometry, the sample is turned into gaseous form through vaporization and it is then ionized. The resultant ions are then accelerated through a potential difference and are then focused to form a beam. The beam of ions is passed through a magnetic field which bends the stream of charged ions. Components which have a higher ionic charge will be lighter and they will deflect in the field further than the less charged components which are heavier. The detector of the mass spectrometer then counts the number of ions at different deflections. Mass spectrometers are often connected to computers that have analysis software installed which analyze the data of the ion detector and plot graphs that classify the ions detected according to their relative abundance and m/z.

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