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Are You in the Market for a Mass Spectrometer?

Learn the most common sample types analyzed and more from the latest mass spectrometer user survey results

by Andrea Cole

Mass spectrometers, measuring the mass-to-charge ratio of charged particles to determine their molecular weight, have not quite become a routine acquisition for every lab that might benefit from them. Four parts are standard in all mass spectrometers: a sample inlet, an ionization source, a mass analyzer, and an ion detector.

Top 6 Questions You Should Ask When Buying a Mass Spectrometer

  1. What factors come into play when determining the MS specifications you require in terms of throughput, sensitivity, robustness, software control, ease of use, and ease of maintenance?
  2. What differentiates the vendor’s MS from others offered, in terms of performance and how easy it would be to upgrade?
  3. How do you validate the specification claims presented by the vendor?
  4. Has the data processing software been designed for enhanced analytics, with lab workflow in mind and does it support critical compliance requirements?
  5. What are important price points to keep in mind when selecting an MS? 6. Laboratories need fast and effective services, including an effective distribution of spare parts, instruments, service personnel, and education/ training. How does the company serve these needs globally?

Primary application for mass spectrometer use as reported by survey respondents:

Test water quality or food contamination30%
Determine structures of drugs and metabolites26%
Screen for metabolites in biological systems25%
Determine protein structure, function, folding, and interactions20%
Quantitate (relative or absolute) proteins in a given sample13%
Detect specific post-translational modifications throughout complex biological mixtures13%
Perform forensic analyses13%
Detect disease biomarkers9%
Sequence oligonucleotides1%

Sample types analyzed by survey respondents:

Blood, body fluids, and cultures30%
Waste water24%
Drinking water24%
Human blood and body fluids23%
Animal tissue20%
Rocks and minerals18%
Food and food related products17%
Clinical samples16%
Petroleum and related products10%
Controlled substances/narcotics6%

Some of the most exciting applications of mass spectrometry, as reported by survey respondents:

  • 2-D mapping of metabolites in tissue
  • Developing proxies for paleotemperatures
  • Proteomic biomarker discovery
  • Drug development and discovery
  • PFCs in drinking water
  • Pesticide analysis
  • Metabolite identification

For more information on mass spectrometers, including useful articles and a list of manufacturers, visit