Over its 130-year history, the mass spectrometer has undergone multiple technological advances. During that time, however, the power source has remained direct current—which has certain limiting factors. As you likely know, it’s typically impossible to control the number of charges in the ionization process. The number of generated ions also cannot be reliably correlated with the applied voltage.
A Revolutionary Power Source
Now, however, researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology have broken through this power source limitation with the introduction of TENGs, or triboelectric nanogenerators. TENGs utilize oscillating high voltage and controlled current, thus having the capacity to improve the ionization process by increasing voltage without sample damage.
TENGs use friction to generate static electricity. By rubbing together one material that sheds electrons (such as nylon or glass) and a second material that naturally absorbs electrons (such as Teflon or silicon), TENGs power small, efficient electronic devices. This simple conversion of mechanical energy from friction to electricity has the capacity to transform much of mass spectrometry.
Micro-Power Makes a Macro-Difference
Why can TENGs make such a difference in mass spectrometry? A fixed input charge is the answer. Regardless of current or voltage, the mass spec can analyze much smaller samples at even higher sensitivities—down to 100 molecules. A fixed number of charges also allows for previously impossible control over the generation of ions—which enables the MS to work with much greater efficiency. Molecule charge can be controlled for every cycle, regardless of the TENG’s speed.
A leap in voltage is another consequence of using TENGs. Standard MS ionizers operate at less than 1,500 volts while TENGs can generate as much as 8,000 volts. This allows for much smaller sample sizes—a “completely different electrospray regime,” according to Professor Facundo Fernández of Georgia Tech.
Generating Leaps in Lab Safety and Portability
In addition to added sensitivity and the ability to use smaller sample sizes, TENGs also revolutionize the power equation. They eliminate the need for high-voltage power supplies (despite generating many more volts!). Removing such power sources from your lab will both increase lab safety and dramatically decrease your lab’s energy costs.
The benefits of mass spec miniaturization are countless. Without the need for high-voltage power supplies these nanogenerators have an increased potential for portability, making it easier to take mass specs into the field. Being able to analyze samples at the scene, especially in extreme, harsh environments, can both speed up time-sensitive processes and increase project efficiency.
We’re thrilled to see that mass specs continue to evolve and we’re here to help you to keep up with the many improvements happening in the field. Each new generation of mass spectrometer should be supported with dedicated lab furniture. It’s an investment that keeps lab safety at the forefront while crafting customizable lab benches that can meet the needs of every mass spec, researcher or technician. Contact us today to discuss your lab’s furniture needs and to learn more about our commitment to lab safety.