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Anal Chem. 2008 Sep 15;80(18):6915-27. doi: 10.1021/ac800591j. Epub 2008 Aug 9.

Quantitative LC-MS of polymers: determining accurate molecular weight distributions by combined size exclusion chromatography and electrospray mass spectrometry with maximum entropy data processing.

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Centre for Advanced Macromolecular Design, School of Chemical Sciences and Engineering, The University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2033, Australia.


We report on the successful application of size exclusion chromatography (SEC) combined with electrospray ionization mass spectrometry (ESI-MS) and refractive index (RI) detection for the determination of accurate molecular weight distributions of synthetic polymers, corrected for chromatographic band broadening. The presented method makes use of the ability of ESI-MS to accurately depict the peak profiles and retention volumes of individual oligomers eluting from the SEC column, whereas quantitative information on the absolute concentration of oligomers is obtained from the RI-detector only. A sophisticated computational algorithm based on the maximum entropy principle is used to process the data gained by both detectors, yielding an accurate molecular weight distribution, corrected for chromatographic band broadening. Poly(methyl methacrylate) standards with molecular weights up to 10 kDa serve as model compounds. Molecular weight distributions (MWDs) obtained by the maximum entropy procedure are compared to MWDs, which were calculated by a conventional calibration of the SEC-retention time axis with peak retention data obtained from the mass spectrometer. Comparison showed that for the employed chromatographic system, distributions below 7 kDa were only weakly influenced by chromatographic band broadening. However, the maximum entropy algorithm could successfully correct the MWD of a 10 kDa standard for band broadening effects. Molecular weight averages were between 5 and 14% lower than the manufacturer stated data obtained by classical means of calibration. The presented method demonstrates a consistent approach for analyzing data obtained by coupling mass spectrometric detectors and concentration sensitive detectors to polymer liquid chromatography.

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