Introduction about Mass Spectrometry

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Mass Spectrometry


Wein in 1898 proposed first crude mass spectra and identified the two neon isotopes by mass
spectrometry by combining the electrostatic and magnetic fields. Aston developed mass spectra
for more than 50 elements. Beynon in 1960 first wrote on the theory of mass spectrometry.
Dampster proposed the instrumentation for the mass spectroscopy.

Mass spectrometry is defined as the measurement and interpretation of the positive ions based
on their masses. It gives the information about the molecular structure of the organic and inorganic


The basic principle involved in mass spectroscopy is when the compounds are bombarded with
electrons, the compound may lose one electron and forms metastable ion:

M + e− M+ + 2e−

Again increasing the energy leads to the formation of positive ions, which is separated and
recorded by the mass spectrometer based on their mass-charge ratios.

Mass-charge ratio (m/e) is defined as the charge of the sample divided by the mass of the
sample. This is useful for the measurement of the molecular structure based on the charges on the


For an unit of charge (e) with mass (m), the acceleration after bombardment is v. The potential
energy eV is equal to its kinetic energy:

eV = ½ mv2

where V is the acceleration voltage.

When this electron is placed in magnetic field the ion shows the force Hev which is equal to
mv2/r. r is the radius of the semicircular electronic path.





Hev = mv2/r

r = mv/He

Therefore, from the above equations

m/e = H2r2/2V

From this, we can observe that

 The radius r of an ion of given mass–charge ratio that can be changed by varying the values
of H and V.

 Mass—charge ratio depends on the singly charged or doubly charged particles.


The mass spectrometers should be able to perform the following functions:

 Ions are produced from the sample molecules when subjected to high energy beam of

 Ions are separated based on the mass–charge ratio when accelerated in the electric field.
 Ions are detected by the collector.

The following are the important components of mass spectrometer:
1. The inlet system.
2. The ion source.
3. The electrostatic system.
4. The separator.
5. The collector.
6. The vacuum system.











Flow chart for the mass spectrometer

1. The inlet system: The sample introduced into the mass spectrometer should be at an
atmospheric pressure. There are two main methods for the sample inlet:

a) Direct introduction: This is commonly used in the matrix-assisted laser
desorption/ionization (MALDI)-MS. The sample is initially placed in the probe and
then introduced into the ionization source.

b) Direct infusion: This is commonly used in the ESI-MS. A simple capillary is used
to introduce the sample such as gas or solution form.

c) Generally the sample introduced into the mass spectrometer should be in the form
of vapour. To achieve this, the inlet system should be kept in the heating system.

2. The ion source: The ionisation source is the mechanical device to convert the sample to
ions. The common ionisation mechanisms used are as follows:

a) Protonation: This is nothing but the addition of the proton to a molecule which
increases net positive charge. The main advantage is it can be frequently used. The
main disadvantage is that in some compounds they are not stable
Example: Carbohydrates.

M + H+ MH+

It is used in MALDI, electron spray ionisation (ESI) and atmosphere pressure
chemical ionisation (APCI).
Example: Peptides are ionised by protonation.

b) Deprotonation: This can be achieved by the removal of proton from a molecule
which increases net negative charge. This is most useful for acidic compounds. The
main disadvantage is that it is compound specific.

M – H+ (M-H)+

It is used in MALDI, ESI and APCI.
Example: Salicylic acid is ionised by deprotonation.

c) Cationisation: This is the addition of positively charged ion to the neutral molecule
with alkali or ammonium. This method is stable than protonation. Because of this,
it is frequently used. But it is limited to some particular compounds.

M + cation Mcation+

It is used in the MALDI, ESI and APCI.
Example: D-galactose is ionised by the cationisation.




d) Charge transfer: This is commonly known as desorption where the solution of the

sample is converted to gas. It is mainly used for the charged complexes not for other

M+(solution) M+(gas)

It is used in the MALDI and ESI.
Example: Tetraphenylphosphine is ionised by the desorption.

e) Electron ejection: Electron ejection is achieved by the removal of the electron to
produce positively charged molecule.


It is used in the electron ionisation.
Example: Anthracene is ionised by the electron ejection.

f) Electron capture: Here, addition of the electron to the sample by absorption or by


The sample is introduced into the ionisation chamber where the paths of electrons
are placed. The molecules present in the sample are ionised by the ionisation source.


Schematic diagram for the ionization of the sample




3. The electrostatic system: The positive ions produced in the ionisation source are passed

through the electric field which is placed between the accelerator plate and repeller plate
which accelerates the ions of masses m1, m2 and m3 to their final velocities.

Energy eV = ½m 2
1v1 = ½m2v

2 2
2 = ½m3v3

The initial potential of the electronic field is set up to 4,000 V.

4. The ion separator: This is commonly known as analyser which separates the ions according
to their masses. An analyzer should have the following characteristics:

a) It should have a higher resolution.
b) High rate of transmission of ions.

5. The main types of analysers used in the mass spectroscopy are as follows:

a) Single focusing magnetic deflection analyser
b) Double focusing analyser
c) Quadrapole analyser
d) Time of fight analyser

a) Single focusing magnetic deflection analyzer: It is most commonly used analyser. At a
given voltage v, all the ions which are ionised produce the same energy.

eV = ½mv2


Schematic diagram for the single focusing deflection analyzer

b) Double focusing analysers: It is mainly used for the high resolution. In this, two ion
beams are passed and detected by the separate collectors. The main advantages of this
type of analyzer are high reproducibility and high sensitivity. The main disadvantage
is its high cost and not suitable for pulsed ionisation methods.






Schematic diagram for the double beam analyser


Isobaric ions can be detected.
High accuracy.


Limited mass range.
Very complex method.
High cost.

c) Quadrapole analyser: The ions are filtered by the quadrant of four parallel circular
tungsten rods which focus ions by oscillating with radiofrequency.


Schematic diagram for the quadrapole analyser





o Very simple instrument.
o Low cost.
o Highly robust technique.

o Limited mass range
o Limited resolving power

d) Time of flight analyser: The ions are separated by changing their directions. Then the
time of flight is given by



Schematic diagram for the time of flight analyser

o All ions are detected at one time.
o High accuracy.
o High resolving power.

o High vacuum is required
o Recalibration is required after every use

e) Ion collector or receiver: Ion beam is of 10 15-10 19 A. Most commonly used receivers
are photographic plates, electron multipliers, electrometers and Faraday cylinders.




f) Vacuum system: In this system, oil diffusion or mercury pumps are commonly used.

High vacuum is maintained that is inlet at 0.015 torr, ion source at 10−5 torr and analyzer
at 10−7.


There are different types of mass spectrometry based on the combination of other analytical
principle with that of the mass spectrometer.

Example: GC-MS, LC-MS, CIMS, FIMS and FABMS.

GC-MS: Gas liquid chromatography when combined with the mass spectrometry provides the
high sensitivity of identification of compounds and structural elucidation. GC separates the volatile
and semi-volatile compounds but it is not useful for the identification. This can be overcome by
the MS. The only incompatibility is the pressure programming between the GC-MS. To overcome
this, two types of separators are used. They are as follows:

 Jet separator: It is mainly used to introduce the more analyte into MS than carrier gas.







Schematic diagram for the zet separator

 Membrane separator: A membrane is placed between the spiral channels. At one end of the
column, effluent is placed and on the other end MS is placed.

Modes of Operation of GC-MS:

There are three modes for the operation of GC-MS:
 Spectral mode.
 Total ion current.
 Selective ion monitoring.

It is sensitive and used as a powerful tool for qualitative and quantitative determinations.




It is time consuming.

LC-MS: LC-MS is more advanced than the GC-MS because no heating is required. This is
conveniently used to analyse the non-volatile compounds and thermoliable compounds which
cannot be handled by the GC-MS. This is mainly used for the molecular weight and structural
determinations. The retention time is less when compared to the GC-MS. The main advantages of
LC-MS: high sensitivity, selectivity and easy to use.

CIMS: This is mainly used for the physicochemical studies such as when ions collide with the
molecules. These ions are present in the ion source. To attain this, reactant gas is used for this

Example: Methane, isobutene and ammonia.

Methane under goes the following reactions to obtain the reagent plasma. These reactions are
collectively called as ion–molecule reactions.

CH +
4 e

− CH4 + 2−
CH + +

4 CH +
3 + H

CH +
4 + CH4 CH +

5 + CH3
CH +

3 + CH4 C +
2H5 + H2

CH +
3 + 2CH4 C3H

3 + 2 H2

CH +
2 + 2CH4 C +

3H5 + 2 H2 + H+

CIMS forms the weak molecular ion (M+) and is taken as (M+1)+ which is commonly called as
quasi-molecular ion.

FIMS: Field ionisation MS is used for the determination of the molecules lacking the parent ion.
It consists of foil-type field ionisation source connected to mass analyser and the data are recorded
in the recorder. Modification of the FIMS is known as field desorption MS (FDMS). In this
method, the sample is allowed to evaporate by means of field ion emitter and introduced into the
high electric field.

FABMS: Fast atom bombardment mass spectrometry involves the bombardment of the compound
with the energy rich neutral particles.

Example: Xenon or Argon atoms with energies of 5,000–10,000 ev. This method is mainly used
for the determination of large peptides, nucleotides and vitamin cyanocobalamin.



The mass spectrum of the sample is the plot between intensity and m/e ratio on abscissa.






Peaks for the different compounds

There are different peaks observed in the MS. They are as follows:

 Molecular peak: This is also known as parent peak which is observed when the
bombardment of the sample loses one electron and produces this peak.

This peak is the peak of highest mass number. The intensity of the peak depends on the
stability of the ionized particle.

M + e− M+ + 2e−

 Fragment peak: This peak is formed by the formation of fragment ions when the energy is
given to the molecular ion. Many of the fragments in the MS are due to the fragments ions

M+ M + 1 + M2

 Rearrangement ion peak: This is due to the rearrangement of the fragment ions.

 Metastable ion peak: The ion resulting from the source and analyser is known metastable
ion and the peak formed is known as metastable ion peak. These are broader with low

 Multicharged ion peaks: Some ions may exist with more than one charge.
Example: CO, N2, CO2, etc.

M + e− M++ + 3e−

 Base peak: The largest peak in the mass spectrum is called base peak. It depends on the
nature of the compound.

 Negative ion peak: In addition to the positive ions formed after energy increase, the
negative ions also show the peaks. But these peaks are negligible in MS.





 High sensitivity.
 Requires small sample size.
 Less time consuming.
 When it combines with other methods, it shows the high sensitivity and acceptability.
 Differentiates the isotopes.


 Only pure compounds are readily handled.
 Non-volatile compounds cannot be handled by the mass spectroscopy.


 Used in the determination of isotopic compositions.
 Example: Labelled isotopes are used in the quantification of proteins.
 Used in the trace gas analysis.
 Example: Analysis of air.
 Used in the characterisation of polymers.
 Example: Synthetic polymers.
 Used in the detection of the steroids
 Example: Estrone and progesterone.
 Used in the determination of the anaesthetics.
 Example: Lignocaine.
 Used in the determination of the dioxins.
 Example: Digitoxin.
 Used in the determination of the gene damage.
 Example: Gene theraphy
 Used in the detection of the oil deposits on rocks.
 Used in the determination of purity of the compounds.
 Used in the determination of molecular weights for new compounds.
 Used in the structural elucidation.
 Used in the determination of rate of reaction.
 Used the pharmacokinetic studies.


1. What are the different types of analysers?
2. Name the receivers used in the mass spectrometry.
3. Explain the principle involved in the time of fight mass spectrometer.
4. What is metastable ion peak?
5. What are the different ionization sources used in MS?
6. Write about FABMS.




7. Which method is highly sensitive: GC-MS or LC-MS?
8. Explain the principle of quadrapole analyser.