From MALDI and ESI to MAI
Simplifying ionization in mass spectrometry.
Sarah Trimpin |
The achievable sensitivity and specificity of mass spectrometers makes them the premier analytical technology for both targeted and non-targeted analyses of minute amounts of material. The high resolving power, along with the ability to obtain mass measurements that are frequently accurate enough to determine elemental composition, allows analysis of complex mixtures, especially when interfacing with chromatographic separations. And yet, despite huge successes, mass spectrometry (MS) still has ample room to grow.
Successful MS analysis begins with the ionization step, which converts molecules into gas-phase ions. In the early days of MS, compounds were vaporized and subjected to an energetic event, such as electron ionization of the gas-phase molecules, which made analysis of most biological compounds inaccessible. A great deal of research went into developing methods capable of converting nonvolatile compounds into (quasi) molecular gas-phase ions, culminating in the development of electrospray ionization (ESI) and matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization (MALDI) in the 1980s. These are now the most widely used ionization methods in MS, and both are capable of converting a wide range of (intact) compounds – regardless of volatility – efficiently into gas-phase ions.
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