For decades, mass spectrometers have offered a relatively fast and highly sensitive way to analyze and detect chemical compounds. But their bulky size has been a hindrance, limiting the in-field potential of the instruments. Though smaller spectrometers have been developed in the past, they’ve generally been less sensitive, and more likely to break down.
Researchers have created a miniaturized, portable spectrometer that has the capabilities of its larger counterpart, but at reduced physical size, weight, and cost. That, in turn, provides a faster and simpler way for compound analysis.
Ion trap mass spectrometers typically work by metal electrodes creating an electric field. That electric field has a radio frequency signal applied to it that traps ions. Scientists gather samples, ionize them, trap the ions, and then eject and detect those ions based on their masses, which then tells them the chemical composition of the sample.
The new miniaturized instrument uses a process called microlithography on ceramic and glass plates to miniaturize the ion traps. The space between the plates is less than a millimeter. The resulting device is 100 times lighter and smaller than a conventional ion trap.
The spectrometer could enable science to be done with an instrument that can be taken anywhere. Instead of sending samples to a lab and waiting for results, a portable instrument can give immediate results, allowing quick decisions.
A small spectrometer whose capacity and strength isn’t minimized by its size has many applications, including analyzing Mars’ atmosphere; detecting and finding chemical weapons, which minimizes danger to soldiers in a given region; detecting explosives in airports or elsewhere; and determining whether a white powder is an illegal drug or something benign.
For more information, contact Andrea Christensen at 801-422-4377; visit here .