Miniature mass spectrometer equipped with electrospray and desorption electrospray ionization for direct analysis of organics from solids and solutions

Ewa Sokol, Robert J. Noll, R. Graham Cooks, Luther W. Beegle, Hugh I. Kim, Isik Kanik

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Citations (Scopus)


We report on the use of a small light-weight mass spectrometer (MS) for chemical analysis of organic material directly from solution or from the solid state with potential value in future planetary missions. The mass spectrometer used in the experiments reported here is handheld and controlled from a laptop computer through custom software. Detection and identification of small organic molecules, including some that might be prebiotics, was achieved using methods relevant to in situ and remote sensing applications. The miniature MS was equipped with a discontinuous atmospheric pressure interface (DAPI) and a home-built electrosonic spray ionization (ESSI) source. Aqueous solutions of molecules of interest were examined using the ESSI technique, while desorption electrospray ionization (DESI) was applied to examine solid samples. The system performance was characterized by direct analysis of analytes belonging to several compound classes including biotic and abiotic amino acids, purines, pyrimidines, nucleosides and peptides. Detection limits in the sub-ppm range for solutions were achieved with the atmospheric pressure sampling/ionization interface. Tandem mass spectrometry (MS2) was successfully applied to confirm trace detection of target compounds in mixtures. Multiple stage (MSn) analysis, where n = 3-5, was employed for molecular structure confirmation and to demonstrate the high chemical specificity as well as the sensitivity of the instrumentation. The use of improved versions of this type of mass spectrometer on exploration missions could provide detailed chemical information on organic materials in physical states currently difficult to access. The high sensitivity and specificity, combined with rapid detection and the absence of requirements for sample preparation are encouraging features of the instrumentation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)187-195
Number of pages9
JournalInternational Journal of Mass Spectrometry
Issue number2-3
Publication statusPublished - 2011 Sept 15
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Financial support through NASA's Astrobiology Science and Technology Instrument Development (ASTID), Planetary Instrument Definition and Development (PIDDP) and Mars Instrument Development programs (MIDP) is gratefully acknowledged. The contributions of LB, HK and IK were carried out at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The authors acknowledge ICx Analytical Instruments for technical assistance.


  • Amino acids
  • Desorption electrospray ionization
  • Electrospray ionization
  • Nucleosides
  • Portable instrumentation
  • Purine and pyrimidine bases
  • Quadrupole ion trap
  • Tandem mass spectrometry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Instrumentation
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Spectroscopy
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry


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