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Top Tier EMSL Mass Spectrometer Gets Upgraded

21 Tesla Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometer

Genoa Blankenship |
Kevin Zemaitis and Will Kew stand in front my EMSL's FTICR mass spectrometer.

Analytical chemists Kevin Zemaitis and Will Kew led a recent upgrade to the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory’s 21 Tesla Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometer. (Photo by Genoa Blankenship | Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory)

One of the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL)’s flagship instruments just got an upgrade.

The 21 Tesla Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometer (21T FTICR-MS) is already one of only two in the world and has the highest magnetic field available for FTICR. With this update, EMSL’s custom-built 21T was coupled with a Thermo Scientific™ Orbitrap Exploris™ 480, which is a hybrid quadrupole–Orbitrap mass spectrometer.

It’s this combination that makes EMSL’s 21T FTICR-MS even more rare. The combined Orbitrap Exploris™ 480–21T FTICR mass spectrometer has dual high-resolution mass analyzers, providing increased sensitivity and improved identification for mass spectrometry measurements.

“Other systems, especially commercial ones, may combine one or two mass analyzers, but the combination of two complementary ultrahigh resolution mass spectrometers in one instrument is unusual,” Kew said. “Essentially, no commercial system has two ultrahigh resolution mass analyzers in one system. EMSL users will find the improvements particularly helpful for analyzing the most complex samples, including microbial communities and natural organic matter, said Will Kew, who led the 21T FTICR-MS upgrade with Kevin Zemaitis. Both are analytical chemists who work with researchers who obtain access and use of the 21T FTICR-MS through EMSL proposal calls.

“EMSL users interested in metabolites, lipids, proteins, and proteoforms will receive more detailed information about their samples through improved sensitivity and improved structural identification thanks to better ion fragmentation performance,” explained Kew. “We will be able to do online liquid chromatography with parallel high-resolution precursor and fragment ion mass spectrometry measurements thanks to the dual mass analyzers. The extremely high intrinsic performance of the 21T offers the highest mass resolving power and mass accuracy, yielding highly confident molecular annotations.”

The Orbitrap Exploris™ 480 is where the experiment starts. It’s where ions are generated at the ionization source and go into the inlet of the front end. The new front end has a bigger, more sensitive inlet that is better at transmitting a wide range of ions, said Kew.

The quadrupole mass filter on the Orbitrap Exploris™ 480 allows scientists to isolate narrow mass ranges of ions for analysis. The high-field Orbitrap™ mass analyzer on the Orbitrap Exploris™ 480 produces high resolution, high sensitivity, fast and accurate mass measurements, complementing the existing ultrahigh resolution 21T FTICR mass analyzer. Between these two mass analyzers, Kew said that the Orbitrap Exploris™ 480 can perform parallel high-resolution measurements. This will enable new experiments, which will produce more structural information about samples without requiring additional measurements, instruments, or sample.

“These advanced developments enable us to push the limits of what is detectable, going to smaller volumes for precious user samples and pushing our spatial analyses closer to single-cell resolution,” states Zemaitis, “I am particularly interested in the application of our new 21T to aid our mass spectrometry imaging pipelines. We have routinely been able to detect biomolecules ranging from small primary metabolites up to intact proteoforms with complex modifications; the parallelized detection will enable confident in situ annotations of all these molecules. Each spatial omic has its unique challenges, but these tandem ultrahigh resolution analyzers within one platform will uniquely enable us to decipher this complexity.”

This research was performed on a project award ( from the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory, a DOE Office of Science User Facility, sponsored by the Biological and Environmental Research program under Contract No. DE-AC05-76RL01830. This project was made possible through collaborations with Gordon Anderson (GAA Custom Electronics Ltd), Matthias Biel (Embion Software), and Alexander Makarov (Thermo Fisher Scientific). The EMSL research team consisted of Will Kew, Kevin Zemaitis, Carter Bracken, Mowei Zhou, and Ljiljana Paša-Tolić.