How Mass Spectrometry Works

Mass spectrometry (MS) is a logical method of determining the elemental components of a molecule or sample. It is also used to expose the chemical arrangements of molecules and other compounds. The MS works by ionizing chemical substances to generate molecular fragments and measure their mass-to-charge ratios.

Mass spectrometry works in the following sequence:

  1. Ionization - To give a positive ion, the atom is ionized. This is done by blowing one or more electrons off. Chlorine is a negative ion. MS always works with positive ions.
  2. Acceleration - The ions are accelerated to have the same work energy. The body maintains kinetic or energy during acceleration unless its speed changes.
  3. Deflection - The ions are then warded off by a magnetic field consistent with their masses. If they are light, they will most likely be deflected. The quantity of deflection relies on the quantity of positive charges on the ion. In other words, the number of knocked of electrons are considered in the first stage. More charged ion means more deflected electrons.
  4. Detection - Electrical detection is made when the beam of ions passes through the machine. This machine is the mass spectrometer, which is an instrument to test samples of compounds for analytical purposes.

The basic principles on how mass spectrometer works are:

  1. When something is moving on a straight line and it is subjected to a sideways force, the movement will become a curve instead of a straight line. The force is deflected from its original path.
  2. To deflect a cannonball that is traveling past you, strong water from a hose-pipe can spurt at it but with little deflection. The cannonball is so heavy that the water cannot force it to curve its way from its original course.
  3. A table tennis ball can easily be deflected with the same hose-pipe water even if it is traveling as fast as the cannonball. The tennis ball is light and can be deflected enormously.

Importance of Mass Spectrometry

Mass spectrometry is used to identify unfamiliar compounds, measure known compounds, and expound the composition and chemical properties of particles. Identification of compounds can be done with very small quantities or very low concentrations in complex mixtures. The instrument provides important information to professionals such as astronomers, physicians, and biologists, to name a few.

Uses of Mass Spectrometry

  • Detection and identification of the use of steroids in athletes
  • Monitoring the breath of patients during surgery by anesthesiologists
  • Determining the components of molecular group found in space
  • Determining adulteration of honey
  • Measuring petroleum signs in rocks to locate oil deposits
  • Monitoring fermentation procedures for the biotechnology
  • Detecting dioxins in infected fish
  • Determining gene damage from ecological causes
  • Establishing the elemental components of semiconductor resources

A mass spectrometer is a very important instrument, not only for physicians and biologists but also for chemists. It works in sequence starting with ionization, when the atom is ionized positively; acceleration, when the ions are accelerated to produce the same level of energy; deflection, when the energy is forced to a curve; and detection, the final stage of the sequence when the presence of the dioxins is finally detected.


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