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History of TOFMS - A Kore perspective

Photo of Laser Microprobe for solids
Early Laser Microprobe MS for solids

The Bendix Corporation marketed the first commercial time-of-flight mass analyser, based on the design of the Wiley MacLaren instrument, in the late 1950's. However TOFMS suffered from poor resolution and did not begin to become a viable mass spectrometry technique until the arrival of affordable fast timing electronics in the 1970's. Kore can claim to be involved in this renaissance of time-of-flight mass spectrometry. In 1978 one of Kore's founders designed the world's first laser microprobe, with a "Mamyrin" reflectron time-of- flight mass analyser, for bulk (solid) sample analysis. This instrument was initially designed for hydrogen embrittlement studies at weld boundaries and subsequent instruments were applied to materials analysis and microelectronics applications.

The emphasis on inorganic analysis was largely because ion production efficiency started to substantially decrease at masses around 5-10kDa, depending upon whether special sample preparation, such as a silver substrate, was made. However in 1987, Michael Karas and Franz Hillenkamp, at the University of Muenster, successfully demonstrated that mixing a low concentration of the sample analyte within a small organic molecule matrix, (which had a strong absorbance at the laser wavelength), broke through the mass limitation. The matrix also allowed for the laser analysis area to be refreshed between each pulse, greatly enhancing shot-to-shot reproducibility. This was the foundation of Matrix-Assisted Laser Desorption Ionisation (MALDI) and the subsequent explosive growth in such instrumentation in Biosciences applications. Unfortunately for the Germans it was the earlier use of a silver particle matrix to demonstrate MALDI that resulted in Koichi Tanaka, of Shimadzu Japan, receiving a part share with John Fenn of the 2002 Noble prize for chemistry.

Meanwhile Kore personnel were getting involved in the other, albeit less explosive growth area for solid sample TOFMS-Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometetry. Alfred Benninghoven at the University of Muenster, who was one of the pioneers in this field, completed a TOF-SIMS in 1979 using a Poshenreider mass analyser. His group subsequently replaced the Poshenreider mass analyser with a reflectron because of its smaller size and to increase the mass resolution.

In the 1980's Kore personnel were involved in developing and selling numerous surface analysis instruments, based around time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometer (SIMS) technology. These were typically large and expensive instruments. Kore wanted to provide the benefits of SIMS in an affordable instrument. So in 1995 the UK Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) granted Kore an award to develop a novel table-top SIMS. This was an inexpensive solid sample, surface contamination analyser for product research and development, quality control and fault diagnosis. Subsequent development of our SIMS instruments over the years has resulted in the SurfaceSeer range of TOF-SIMS instruments that provide the power of surface chemical analysis, at a price considerably less than the cost of high-end research TOF-SIMS instruments.

Photo of prototype portable MS
Prototype portable MS

A completely different application of Kore's time-of-flight mass spectrometer technology resulted in the world's first truly portable TOFMS. This development program started in 1993 when the UK DTI awarded Kore a SMART award for a feasibility study and then further funding to produce a production prototype portable pollution monitor. To date Kore has sold numerous portable mass spectrometers to research groups throughout the world, for use in diverse applications ranging from the health and environmental field to homeland security.

Kore has over the years developed a number of TOF-MS instruments for fast ultra-sensitive analysis of volatile organic compounds(VOCs) in the atmosphere. For example in 2002 we started designing Proton Transfer Reaction TOF (PTR-TOF) systems for the detection of ultra-low concentrations of compounds in air. The ability of PTR- TOF to detect very low levels of a variety of organic species in complex matrices makes it an attractive technique not only for environmental studies but also for other areas such as medicine and food technology.

Over the years we have also supplied many Design-for-Research instruments in which Mass Spectrometry Systems are supplied to researchers that require a high performance, flexible special system, designed to allow them to fully explore their particular applications. Examples of Design-for-Research Systems that we have supplied include a compact TOFMS system for time-resolved kinetic studies of gas phase reactions, plasma diagnostic systems and research TOF-MS instruments used to characterise the masses and distribution of metal clusters.

From the 20th to the 21st century Kore personnel can claim to have been involved in most facets of the development of time-of-flight mass spectrometry and this we would claim has made Kore a centre of excellence in time-of-flight mass spectrometer technology.


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Last updated: 15:54 27/08/2015

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