Story Behind the ImageA look inside the mass spectrometer
The research facilities in the School of Biosciences provide the foundations for our excellence in research and training at undergraduate and postgraduate level. Core research facilities, managed by specialist staff, contain state-of-the-art equipment to support specific research projects and advanced practical training. One technique widely used in the School is mass spectrometry for the analysis of biological molecules, using an advanced mass spectrometer in our Biomolecular Science facility.
Mass spectrometry (mass analysis) of molecules requires the molecules to be ions in the gas phase; this is particularly challenging for large molecules such as peptides, proteins and DNA. Electrospray ionisation provides a means by which molecules of all sizes can be converted to ions in the gas phase. The molecules, in solution, are dispersed into an aerosol of charged droplets by spraying them from a fine needle that has a potential of 4,000 volts. An additional blanket of drying gas evaporates the remaining liquid leaving a cloud of ionised molecules whose masses can then be measured by the mass spectrometer. The picture, taken by Biomolecular Science facility manager Kevin Howland, shows an electrospray source where gaseous ions are formed. The fine aerosol has been visualised with a blue LED light.