The figure depicts a proposed miniature ion-mobility spectrometer that would be fabricated by micromachining. Unlike prior ion-mobility spectrometers, the proposed instrument would not be based on a time-of-flight principle and, consequently, would not have some of the disadvantageous characteristics of prior time-of-flight ion-mobility spectrometers. For example, one of these characteristics is the need for a bulky carrier-gas-feeding subsystem that includes a shutter gate to provide short pulses of gas in order to generate short pulses of ions. For another example, there is need for a complex device to generate pulses of ions from the pulses of gas and the device is capable of ionizing only a fraction of the incoming gas molecules; these characteristics preclude miniaturization. In contrast, the proposed instrument would not require a carrier-gas-feeding subsystem and would include a simple, highly compact device that would ionize all the molecules passing through it.

This Proposed Ion-Mobility Spectrometer would be made to sweep repeatedly through a spectrum of ionic species by applying a combination of AC andramped DC voltages between the filter electrodes.
The ionization device in the proposed instrument would be a 0.1-micron-thick dielectric membrane with metal electrodes on both sides. Small conical holes would be micromachined through the membrane and electrodes. An electric potential of the order of a volt applied between the membrane electrodes would give rise to an electric field of the order of several megavolts per meter in the submicron gap between the electrodes. An electric field of this magnitude would be sufficient to ionize all the molecules that enter the holes. Ionization (but not avalanche arcing) would occur because the distance between the ionizing electrodes would be less than the mean free path of gas molecules at the operating pressure of instrument.

An accelerating grid would be located inside the instrument, downstream from the ionizing membrane. The electric potential applied to this grid would be negative relative to the potential on the inside electrode of the ionizing membrane and would be of a magnitude sufficient to generate a moderate electric field. Positive ions leaving the membrane holes would be accelerated in this electric field. The resulting flux of ions away from the ionization membrane would create a partial vacuum that would draw more of the gas medium through the membrane.

The figure depicts a filter electrode and detector electrodes located along the sides of a drift tube downstream from the accelerator electrode. These electrodes would apply a transverse AC electric field superimposed on a ramped DC electric field. The AC field would effect differential transverse dispersal of ions. At a given instant of time, the trajectories of most of the ions would be bent toward the electrodes, causing most of the ions to collide with the electrodes and thereby become neutralized. The DC field would partly counteract the dispersive effect of the AC field, straightening the trajectories of a selected species of ions; the selection would vary with the magnitude of the applied DC field. The straightening of the trajectories of the selected ions would enable them to pass into the region between the detector electrodes. Depending on the polarity of the voltage applied to the detector electrodes, the electric field between the detector electrodes would draw the selected ions to one of these electrodes. Hence, the current collected by one of the detector electrodes would be a measure of the abundance of ions of the selected species. The ramping of the filter-electrode DC voltage would sweep the selection of ions through the spectrum of ionic species.

This work was done by Frank T. Hartley of Caltech for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.


This Brief includes a Technical Support Package (TSP).
Miniature Ion-Mobility Spectrometer

(reference NPO-21109) is currently available for download from the TSP library.

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