Spectrometry studies light-matter interactions and measurements of radiation intensity, as well as reactions to it. In other words, it’s a technique that measures a particular spectrum, which is widely utilized to perform spectroscopic analysis of sample materials. Mass spectrometry is a type of spectrometry that determines a chemical sample’s mass by using a mass-to-charge ratio. This happens through the ionization process of particles with a shower of electrons, which are then separated into different deflection phases via a magnetic field. After separating the particles, an electron multiplier is used to measure them. This is done to determine each ion’s mass and, ultimately, determine the composition of the sample. Generally, scanning electron microscopes provide options for spectrometry depending on the application.
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Spectrometry versus spectroscopy
Some scientific terms are used interchangeably in many instances, and scientifically-accepted descriptions are reinterpreted all the time, which creates a lot of confusion. Since it’s impossible to eliminate these errors completely, the aim is to reduce them as much as possible by gaining more awareness of what they truly mean and using them accordingly. Despite their similarities, spectrometry and spectroscopy aren’t one and the same. While spectroscopy comprises only the theoretical aspects, spectrometry is the practical application of the science, generating concrete results.
How is spectrometry used in modern technology?
Spectrometry is commonly associated with biomolecular research, but its applications go beyond that. Here are its common uses in current technology.
Identifying toothpaste toxins
Several types of toothpaste contain DEG – a sweetener which is, in fact, a poisonous chemical. While this component has been prohibited, it’s pretty much impossible to know for sure whether the prohibition has been enforced. That’s because there isn’t yet a way to test toothpaste. Of course, technological advancements will likely make that possible in the future, although it could take several years until it happens. However, a Chinese scientist named Huan Wen Chen has developed a method that makes it possible to identify toxins rapidly through mass spectrometry. This method could also help analyze other viscous liquids like foods and pharmaceuticals.
Accurate cancer detection
It’s difficult for cancer surgeons to figure out precisely where a tumor begins and ends. But that’s imperative to avoid removing too much tissue that could affect normal functions. On the other hand, the illness can become recurrent if, during the surgery, surgeons don’t take enough tissue. Effective surgeries are those that eliminate most cancer in the body while also preserving healthy tissue. That precision could be achieved using a MacSpec Pen, a hand-held gadget linked to a mass spectrometer. This revolutionary device evaluates the molecules of tissue to determine whether they are malignant. This is done through a simple and fast process which involves:
- Depositing a droplet of water on the surface of the tissue for around three seconds;
- Transferring the droplet to the mass spectrometer where the molecules can be analyzed;
- Providing a predictive diagnosis through machine learning technology.
Breath analyzers, or breathalyzers, are used to measure someone’s blood alcohol content (BAC) or detect disease through a breath sample. Most devices utilize a fuel cell sensor, a semiconductor oxide sensor, or an infrared spectrometer. The latest is generally used by police officers in table-top breathalyzers. Spectrometers identify compounds through infrared light; after getting a breath sample, the amount of ethanol is analyzed to calculate the alcohol level in the subject’s bloodstream.
Newborn screening has enormous benefits for babies with health conditions because detecting an illness or disability enables early treatment which can improve their health and sometimes even prevent death. The screening tests are harmless and happen quickly, consisting of a physical examination to check for metabolic disorders like PKU or MSUD, hormone or hemoglobin problems, and more. Fortunately, mass spectrometry allows clinical laboratories to carry out screening tests for millions of infants and identify potential diseases that could put their life at risk.
While there are different types of forensic investigation, the most well-known is related to crimes. Forensics means gathering physical evidence to convict a criminal. One such example is biological evidence in the form of hairs or blood spatter. Mass spectrometry is used to identify traces of a suspect, which are often hard to detect. Moreover, it can also be useful in toxicology investigations because it helps identify potential poisons by analyzing blood samples. This can determine not only the toxic dose in the victims’ blood but also the manner and time of the death.
Determining antibiotic resistance
While antibiotics can save lives, they also have adverse effects that often cause antibiotic resistance. But thanks to mass spectrometry, it is possible to detect antibiotic resistance rapidly. That happens through a process called MALDI ionization, which is used in conjunction with different mass analyzers. This technology also enables the analysis of bigger proteins, lipids, carbohydrates, peptides and many other substances.
Addressing the global energy crisis
It’s already known that climate change is harming the planet considerably, worsening air quality and threatening people’s health. So, now more than ever is imperative to develop sustainable solutions for energy production and utilization and pollution monitoring. Mass spectrometers can address this significant issue by providing accurate insights regarding pollution levels. Moreover, they are also used by researchers in anaerobic digestion. This process allows waste to be transformed into an efficient energy source, reducing solid waste volume and hence, producing valuable chemicals like acetic acid.
Spectrometry is considered to be a large piece of equipment which is used in time-consuming processes. But that’s only a misconception. In fact, spectrometry devices are simple to use, accurate and can be easily adapted. Moreover, they provide quick results, making them efficient in different kinds of situations, whether performing screenings for newborns or investigating a crime. Above, we’ve only listed some of the spectrometry’s applications in modern technology – considering how quickly this field is developing, there will likely be more of them in the near future. One thing is clear: spectrometry will lead to the progress of humanity, enabling faster processes and generating better results.