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Anal Chem. 2006 Nov 15;78(22):7751-60.

Characterizing electrospray ionization using atmospheric pressure ion mobility spectrometry.

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Department of Chemistry, Washington State University, Pullman, Washington 99164, USA.


Reduced flow rate electrospray ionization has been proven to provide improved sensitivity, less background noise, and improved limits of detections for ESI-MS analysis. Miniaturizing the ESI source from conventional electrospray to microelectrospray and further down to nanoelectrospray has resulted in higher and higher sensitivity; however, when effects of flow rate were investigated for atmospheric pressure ESI-IMS using a nanospray emitter, a striking opposite result was observed. The general tendency we observed in ESI-IMS was that higher flow rate offered higher ion signal intensity throughout a variety of conditions investigated. Thus, further efforts were undertaken to rationalize these contradictory results. It is well accepted that decreased flow rate increases both ionization efficiency and transmission efficiency, thus improving ion signal in ESI-MS. However, our study revealed that decreased flow rate results in decreased ion signal because ion transfer is constant, no matter how flow rate changes in ESI-IMS. Since ion transfer is constant in atmospheric pressure ESI-IMS, ionization efficiency can be studied independently, which otherwise is not possible in ESI-MS in which both ionization efficiency and transmission efficiency vary as conditions alter. In this article, we present a systematic study of signal intensity and ionization efficiency at various experimental conditions using ESI-IMS and demonstrate the ionization efficiency as a function of flow rate, analyte concentration, and solvent composition.

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