High pressure mass spectrometry of volatile organic compounds with ambient air buffer gas

Kenion H. Blakeman
Craig A. Cavanaugh
William M. Gilliland, Jr.
J. Michael Ramsey


Rationale There are many chemical measurement scenarios that would benefit from hand portable mass spectrometry tools including forensics, environmental monitoring, and safety and security. High pressure mass spectrometry (HPMS) facilitates miniaturization by significantly reducing vacuum system requirements. Previous work demonstrated HPMS using helium buffer gas, but HPMS conducted using ambient air would further reduce the size and weight of a portable instrument while also reducing logistical demands by eliminating the need for a helium supply. Methods Mass spectrometry was performed at pressures exceeding 1 Torr with ambient air as the buffer gas. A glow discharge electron ionization source and a miniature cylindrical ion trap mass analyzer with a radius of 0.5 mm were used. Mass analysis was possible at these pressures with increased radiofrequency (RF) drive frequencies (10 MHz) compared with commercial ion traps (~1 MHz). A differentially pumped chamber was used so that mass spectrometry could be performed at high pressures and detection performed at low pressures with an electron multiplier. Results HPMS with air buffer gas was demonstrated using a suite of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The glow discharge ionization source was optimized for operation using air. Mass spectral peak widths increased a factor of 8 compared with helium, as expected, but useful chemical information was still acquired. A mixture of VOCs was detected with ambient air as the buffer gas, showing that valuable mass information can be gained using HPMS without the requirement of an onboard buffer gas source. Conclusions HPMS significantly reduces the pumping requirements required for miniature mass spectrometers and the use of ambient air buffer gas further reduces size, weight, and logistics requirements. Mass analysis at high pressures of ambient air is another important step for the development of hand portable mass spectrometers.