1897

1897

Modern mass spectrometry (MS) has its inception in the cathode-ray-tube experiments of J.J. Thomson (Manchester, England) working as head of the Cavendish laboratory in Cambridge

1906

1906

J.J. Thomson wins the Nobel prize for Physics for his discovery of the electron

1913

1913

Aston working with Mass Spectrometers in the Cavendish Lab Cambridge UK, under the pupilage of Thomson built the first mass spectrograph and reported the discovery of atomic isotopes using mass spectrometry

1922

Francis Aston wins Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery of isotopes with mass spectrometry

1932

Kenneth Banbridge in the USA first to use a Wien filter with homogenous magnetic field

1933

N.F. Barber working in Leeds showed that the double focusing of an ion beam could be obtained in a sector instrument if the source, apex of the magnet and collector lie in a straight line and the ion beam enters and leaves the magnetic sector at right angles

1934 – 1936

1934 – 1936

Designs of double focusing instruments built by Herztzog and Mattuch (Vienna) Demster (Chicago) Bainbridge and Jordan (Harvard) provide resolution of 6000

1940

Development of the magnetic sector analyser Alfred Nier and improvements in electron impact ionisation

1940

Decision of American Oil industry to use mass spectrometry to analyse light hydrocarbon mixtures used as aviation fuel

Mid 1940s

First commercial mass spectrometers produced by Consolidated Electrodynamics Corporation USA, MAT in Bremen (Germany) and Metropolitan Vickers in Manchester commissioned by Professor James Chadwick, Liverpool University 1944 (Nobel prize in physics 1932 for discovery of the neutron) on behalf of the UK government

1946-48

1946-48

Time-of-flight mass spectrometer, named the Velocitron, reported by A. E. Cameron and D. F. Eggers Jr, working at the Y-12 National Security Complex, in 1948 following proposal of W. E. Stephens of the University of Pennsylvania

1953

Hans Georg Dehmelt and Wolfgang Paul’s invention of the quadrupole ion filter which in turn led to the quadrupole ion trap earned them the Nobel Prize in physics (1989)

1955

Wiley, W. C.; McLaren, I. H. report a Time-of-Flight Mass Spectrometer with Improved Resolution

1962

1962

Earl W. McDaniel couples a drift tube to a mass spectrometer to study low energy ion molecule reactions, this is recognised as the start of the technique known as ion mobility mass spectrometry.

1968

Malcolm Dole developed contemporary electrospray ionization (ESI) but with little fanfare. Creating an aerosol in a vacuum resulted in a vapor that was considered too difficult to be practical. Liquid can represent a volume increase of 100 to 1000 times its condensed phase (1 mL/min of water at standard conditions would develop 1 L/min of vapor)

1974

Atmospheric pressure chemical ionization (APCI) was developed by Horning based largely on gas chromatography (GC), but APCI was not widely adopted

1980

M. Barber, R.S. Bordoli working at UMIST demonstrated the ionisation of the protein insulin with a technique that they developed called Fast Atom Bombardment

1981

Alexander Makarov designed a functional orbitrap in 2000 and in 2005 it was launched as a product by Thermo Fisher Scientific.

1983

Vestal and Blakely’s work with heating a liquid stream became known as thermospray, it became a harbinger of today’s commercially applicable instruments

1984

Fenn’s work with ESI was published leading to his Nobel Prize-winning work published in 1988

1985

1985

Franz Hillenkamp and Michael Karas invent Matrix Assisted Laser Desorption Ionisation MALDI allowing entire peptides to be ionised intact.

1985

1985

Harry Kroto, Robert Curl, and Rick Smalley use laser vaporisation coupled with mass spectrometry to discover the football shaped molecule Buckminster Fullerene. In 1995 they were awarded the Nobel Prize for this discovery.

1987

1987

Koichi Tanaka develops and applies Laser Desorption Ionisation to ionise molecules as large as the 34,472 Da protein Carboxypeptidase-A. Tanaka shared the 2002 Nobel Prize with John Fenn ‘for developments in soft ionisation’

2000

2000

Based on theoretical work of Kingdon in the early 1920s postulating a ion trap that can trap ions in orbit around a spindle, and the inclusion of a modified outer electrode by Knight.

2004

2004

Graham Cooks and Zoltan Takats develop the ambient ionisation technique DESI – Desorption Electrospray Ionisation

2006

2006

Following pioneering work by a few brave research groups on home-made instruments showcasing the capabilities of ion mobility mass spectrometry, Waters Corp. launch the first commercial ion mobility mass spectrometer.

Who Uses MS?

Mass Spectrometry is an analytical tool that measures the mass of molecular ions with a phenomenal reach across science, industry and associated impacts throughout society. As well as its continued use in the chemical industry, it is also employed to test athletes (and horses) for the use of banned substances; to check for adulteration of foodstuffs (e.g. honey with corn syrup); to determine if tissue is cancerous and in real time feeding this information back to a surgeon in the operating theatre; to give an indication of frailty as we age; to measure disease markers; to analyse complex mixtures from food, oil and the environment, and is currently as we write being used to measure the molecular composition of a comet.

What is MS and How Does it Work?

This primer developed by Waters Corp. covers a range of topics related to modern mass spectrometry practices and answers some frequently asked questions about the use and capabilities of mass spectrometers.