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The Problem / Opportunity


1) In situ analysis

There are many space and terrestrial applications for in situ analysis.  Most, such as geophysical monitors, need time-series analysis at a scale that, even if sample return were an option, would be unfeasible given the sampling rates necessary for interpretation.  Because of the relative complexity of chemical (and isotopic) analysis, geochemical monitors of the natural environment are currently sparse. Nevertheless, the information stored within chemical systems is comparatively great and, at present, largely untapped.

More about in situ analysis


2) High-sensitivity analysis

Because many of the chemical species of environmental interest are extremely dilute in natural waters, the need for a high-sensitivity analysis is paramount.  This requirement has been yet another blockade for in situ chemical monitoring.  However, the use of mass spectrometers as field instruments largely removes this blockade to technical progress.  Current sensitivities for many chemical species are below ppb (part per billion) levels, and our planned enhancements should take us to below ppt (part per trillion) levels.



3) Broad-band analysis

The natural environment contains complex media.  Broad-band analysis, defined herein as a multiple species analysis obtained at the same time, allows a more complete characterization.  Mass spectrometers in general have extremely large dynamic analytical range, and the mass spectrometer systems we employ has an especially wide dynamic range.  This allows the investigator to rapidly obtain analytical results on many species, increasing the geochemical knowledge of any system under investigation. 



We have an active research program to prove the Rotating Electric Field Ion Mass Spectrograph (REFIMS, Clemmons & Herrero, 1998) for environmental applications.

For most field applications, the primary advantages of quadruple and REFIMS-type sensors over more traditional magnetic MS or TOF (time of flight) sensors are a more compact size and robust design. In our previous work, REFIMS devices have been successfully shock-tested to nearly 2,000 G. The REFIMS and the new 3HMS also have large organic molecular detection capability, which is of keen interest to anti-terrorism and force protection commands. Besides potentially greater sensitivity, the advantages of the 3HMS 2-d detector will allow for rapid sensitive analysis of airborne plumes in a battlefield scenario (e.g. in sounding rockets), for multi-component and large organics surveillance of air and waters (from airborne craft to deep-see vehicles and buoys), of soil gases (in penetrators), and in situ surveillance of groundwater within well bores. Using similar technology, we foresee applications for in situ environmental monitoring (an upcoming research area) and in the medical and pharmaceutical industries (e.g. protein biomarker discovery).

      Left: Bench testing the REFIMS inside a polycarbonate vacuum housing. Right: Custom support electronics.



There is a wide variety of mass spectrometers, each usually with some distinct advantage over other designs. All share the ability to perform rapid, multi-component analysis of gases, liquids and solids, with relatively great sensitivity (ppm to ppb detection is common). We have explored the extended mass range capabilities of the REFIMS because these types allow much higher mass detection (to >100,000 atomic mass units, or amu) than is possible using a quadruple MS (usually <300 amu). The REFIMS thus allows detection of large organics such as proteins and DNA. While working with various REFIMS designs, our engineering team invented a new and improved type of mass spectrometer, call the Hyperbolic Horn Helical Mass Spectrometer (3HMS). The main advantages of this new design over previous REFIMS designs are a 180-fold increase in sensitivity by use of improved ion focus geometry, compact, "in-line" geometry, and the ability to detect ions in two dimensions. 

More about the 3HMS



   2007 Pacific Environmental Technologies
  Honolulu, Hawaii USA