New device combines microscopy with MS

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  • Published: Nov 12, 2015
  • Author: Jon Evans
  • Source: ORNL
  • Channels: Base Peak
thumbnail image: New device combines microscopy with MS

A new hybrid optical microscope/mass spectrometry-based imaging system shows considerable promise for advancing a number of areas of study, including chemical science, pharmaceutical development and disease progression.

Developed at the Department of Energy (DOE)'s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), the system operates under ambient conditions and requires no pre-treatment of samples to analyze chemical compounds with sub-micron resolution. Results of the work by postdoctoral associate Jack Cahill and Gary Van Berkel and Vilmos Kertesz of ORNL's Chemical Sciences Division are detailed in Analytical Chemistry.

"Knowing the chemical basis of material interactions that take place at interfaces is vital for designing and advancing new functional materials that are important for DOE missions such as organic photovoltaics for solar energy," Van Berkel said. "In addition, the new tool can be used to better understand the chemical basis of important biological processes such as drug transport, disease progression and response for treatment."

The hybrid system uses an optical microscope to scan the surface of sample at a resolution of less than 1µm and a UV laser to ablate material from the surface at the same resolution. The ablated material is transported to the ionization source of the mass spectrometer via a liquid vortex capture probe. In just seconds, a computer screen displays the results. By analyzing materials at this high resolution, the instrument is able to differentiate and distinguish between the polymers making up a polymer blend or the sub-components of a biological cell.

"Today's mass spectrometry imaging techniques are not yet up to the task of reliably acquiring molecular information on a wide range of compound types," Cahill said. "Examples include synthetic polymers used in various functional materials like light harvesting and emitting devices or biopolymers like cellulose in plants or proteins in animal tissue."

This technology, however, provides the long-sought detailed chemical analysis through a simple interface between a hybrid optical microscope and an electrospray ionization system for mass spectrometry.

(Image of a polymer blend produced by the hybrid system courtesy of ORNL.)

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