A mass spectrometer is a tool that analyses a sample to determine its component elements and structure of said substance. The machine works through a series of processes with the goal of detecting a mass to charge ratio1 (figure 1).
At first, all air is vacuumed out of the machine to prevent ions2 from interacting with air molecules. Afterwards, the sample is inserted where it is then vaporised (if solid or liquid). Third, an electron beam will launch a stream of electrons at the atoms or molecules of the sample, knocking away one of its electrons and ionizing3 the sample with a net positive charge .
Next, a set of positively charged plates will repel the now positive ions of the compound towards an electromagnet. The electromagnet will deflect the ions which will then collide with a detection plate. Once the ions reach the plate, electrons will neutralize them but they will simultaneously result in a change of flow of electrons as they (electrons) cover the space previously occupied. This flow of electrons is amplified and recorded in a graph (figure 2).
The graph shows how often ions of a particular mass/charge ratio produced a similar change in current flow. Mass spectrometers use a variety of physics concepts to ensure that the ions can travel through the machine unimpeded and efficiently through magnetics, circular motion, and the Lorentz Force5. Immediately after the sample is placed in the machine, it is ionized. Using knowledge of how positive charges react with similar charges, a set of like charges are placed to propel the ions forward into the electromagnet.
The electromagnet is tweaked often so that the ions will travel correctly and avoid the walls of the mass spectrometer. Circular motion is used because the electromagnet deflects ions into a curve where they will then turn and hit the detection plate. Finally, because the ions are moving in a magnetic field, those who use and create this machine take into consideration the Lorentz Force so as to ensure the procedure is done as intended.The economic impact of these machines is insignificant, and their use is limited to fields such as forensic science, analytical chemistry and bioanalysis.
However, despite their limited use they aid greatly in those fields as they can help provide a better understanding of organic material, and unknown chemicals/elements. Also, they are used for food safety tests, environmental analysis, and clinical research. These uses lead to a safer society because important information such as clues used in criminal investigations, the makeup of our food, and the condition of our environment will be known. Environmentally, mass spectrometers are more beneficial than harmful.
Because they are not mass produced, the carbon footprint is not very large and not many factories are needed. Also, because they are used for very long periods of time there is no need to constantly produce them. Mass spectrometers could even be an important part of solving environmental problems. By using these machines for analysis, we can predict and solve problems before they become major issues which are harder to control.In conclusion, the social and economic value of mass spectrometers may not be notable but these complex machines could advance society through providing in depth information about our food, environment, and medicine.