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Graphic element Research > Growth > Research projects > Measurements & testing projects > Cation mass spectrometry: Europe takes a leading role
Graphic element Cation mass spectrometry: Europe takes a leading role

Scientists in Europe with experience in cation mass spectrometry have, with EU support, developed a new analytical instrument capable of providing three-dimensional surface analysis at exceptionally high resolution. The instrument, which is the first in the world to be fully dedicated to exploiting the analytical qualities of caesium cations, will be used in research and production control in the biotechnology and nanotechnology industries, where coating materials are of increasing importance.

As computers become smaller and smaller and as we look ever closer at the inner workings of the living cell, material analysis at the sub-micrometer level is becoming increasingly important. Mass spectrometry has long been used by chemists as an analytical technique, with Europe positioned as a world leader in the field. But the expense involved makes it impractical for use in many areas. The EU is, therefore interested in developing techniques that would make mass spectrometry processes more affordable and, therefore, more attractive to potential users. The Cation mass spectrometry (CMS) project includes partners from France and Germany and is being led by Henri-Noel Migeon out of the Laboratory for Analysis of Materials (LAM) in Luxembourg.

The instrument now under development will allow the application of this technique to much greater effect in the analysis of chemical compounds at very low concentrations. It will be particularly useful in many industries in Europe, including the automotive and construction industries, in protein analysis and genomics; and in nanotechnology, an exciting area expected to revolutionise the computing industry.

A simple but powerful technique

Mass spectrometry is a widely used method for identifying and characterising substances. The identity of a given molecule is determined by breaking it up and then identifying the component parts. Molecules always break apart in characteristic ways depending on how the atoms that make it up are grouped.

Once molecules have been fragmented, they are drawn toward a detector using a magnetic field. The particular technique being developed under the CMS project is based on the use of caesium ions. The sample to be tested is bombarded with these ions, resulting in the formation of a number of caesium compounds made up of the caesium ions and fragments of the bombarded sample. By measuring the masses of the caesium clusters, the composition of the sample surface can be analysed. Indeed, project partners have designed the first and only instrument totally dedicated to this method of measuring surface content.

Groundbreaking science

Surface coatings are becoming more and more prevalent in many products from medical prostheses and implants to large metal or plastic components used in motor vehicles. They can be used to change the appearance of the product in some way or to affect the properties of the product. Obviously the performance of the coated-product will be determined by the quality of the coating, which is in turn determined by its components. Ensuring quality during the production of the coating is where the CMS instrument comes in.

Wear and tear also affects coating materials. Components of the coating can move between layers, possibly even migrating into the bulk of the material. This can affect performance. Determination of these changes requires an instrument that not only examines surface concentration but is also capable of determining the concentration of any element at depth. The CMS instrument has been designed specifically to meet these requirements by allowing three-dimensional analysis at very low concentrations.

The CMS instrument will also find application in biotechnology and medicine, where much of the current research centres on the understanding of the tiniest parts of the body. We have already sequenced the genome and now we are in the process of trying to understand the proteins that are produced and controlled by these genes. An understanding of these proteins is expected to lead to development of new and exciting drugs for the treatment of human disease. CMS represents an important method by which these proteins can be observed.

Market Leadership for Europ

The production and marketing of tools for use in fields such as nanotechnology, biotechnology and medicine are very important and potentially quite lucrative. Europe is already a market leader in cation spectrometry and the development of the new CMS technique can only enhance this position. Support for this important research is therefore essential as it will enable European partners to perfect the instrument for manufacture and sale to countries all over the world.

A simple but powerful technique
Groundbreaking science
Market leadership for Europe

Key data

Research under the Measurements and testing generic activity of the Growth Programme supports the development of new techniques such as caesium cation mass spectrometry for the high resolution three-dimensional analysis of microscopic surfaces.


Cation Mass Spectrometry, Contract number smt4-ct95-2015


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