A protocol was developed as a first step in analyzing the complex organic aerosols present on Saturn’s moon Titan, as well as the analogues of these aerosols (tholins) made on Earth. Labeling of primary amines using Pacific Blue™ succinimidyl ester is effected in ethanol with 25 mM triethylamine to maintain basic conditions. This reaction is allowed to equilibrate for at least one hour. Separation of the labeled primary amines is performed in ethanol with 1.05 M acetic acid, and 50 mM ammonium acetate in a commercial two-layer glass device with a standard crossmicrochannel measuring 50 microns wide by 20 microns deep. Injection potentials are optimized at 2 kV from the sample (negative) to the waste well (positive), with slight bias applied to the other two wells (–0.4 and –0.8 V) to pinch the injection plug for the 30-s injection. Separation is performed at a potential of 5 kV along the channel, which has an effective separation distance of 7 cm.

The use of ethanol in this method means that long-chain primary amines can be dissolved. Due to the low pH of the separation buffer, electro-osmotic flow (EOF) is minimized to allow for separation of both short-chain and longchain amines. As the freezing point of ethanol is much lower than water, this protocol can perform separations at temperatures lower than 0 °C, which would not be possible in aqueous phase. This is of particular importance when considering in situ sampling of Titan aerosols, where unnecessary heating of the sample (even to room temperature) would lead to decomposition or unpredictable side reactions, which would make it difficult to characterize the sample appropriately.

This work was done by Peter A. Willis and Maria Mora of Caltech, and Morgan L. Cable and Amanda M. Stockton of ORAU for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For more information, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. NPO-48615


NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the November, 2012 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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