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Mass Spectrometry Instrument Lab - NIST Charleston

Mass spectrometry (MS) is a chemical analysis technique that utilizes the differences in the mass-to-charge ratio of ion fragments to analyze samples. The Biochemical and Exposure Sciences Group (BESG) uses MS in combination with different types of chromatographic separations to determine environmental contaminants, clinical biomarkers, hormones, proteins, and metabolites in both biological and non-biological samples.

Gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GC-MS) and liquid chromatography mass spectrometry (LC-MS) offer different capabilities that can be exploited for chemical analyses of different types of samples. GC-MS involves separating volatile analytes using a gas flow system and detection with MS. The BESG maintains capabilities in GC-MS, tandem GC-MS (GC-MS/MS), and pyrolysis GC-MS to measure semi-volatile and volatile organic pollutants, clinical biomarkers, plastic additives, polymers, and components of fossil fuels.

In contrast, LC-MS utilizes a liquid mobile phase which is removed prior to detection in the mass spectrometer. The BESG also maintains instrumental capabilities in tandem LC-MS (LC-MS/MS) and LC-high resolution mass spectrometry (LC-HRMS) to enable the analysis of more polar analytes that are not possible with gas chromatography. LC-MS techniques permit the determination of proteins, hormones, metabolites, and environmental contaminants such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), pesticides, and per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS).

These measurements, methods, and applications support environment measurements, the circular economy, and healthcare.


Photograph of a laboratory instrument consisting of a large component on a mobile bench (the mass spectrometer), and a smaller component with stacked modules (the liquid chromatograph).
Credit: Alex Holt 
Photograph of two men conversing with each other.
Credit: Alex Holt
Photograph of a large laboratory instrument
Credit: C. Burdette/NIST
Photograph of a woman studying a computer monitor, seated in a laboratory.
Credit: Alex Holt
Created April 4, 2024, Updated May 15, 2024