A new way of making ions could revolutionize mass spectroscopy.

Zoltán Takáts, Justin M Wiseman, Bogdan Gologan and R Graham Cooks of Purdue University have shown that using a spray of electrically charged solvent droplets to strike a sample can replace the more cumbersome technique of dissolving a sample in solvent and then using high voltage to pull out charged droplets.

The new method, known as desorption electrospray ionization (DESI), looks rather like techniques that use ion beams (a vacuum is needed) or laser beams (surface preparation is generally needed) to produce ions, but it works on just about anything. In principle, mass spectrometers could now be made into portable, easy-to-use devices.

Further reading

Zoltán Takáts et al. 2004 Science 306 471.

Compiled by Steve Reucroft and John Swain, Northeastern University