Maximising Ion Mobility Mass Spectrometry at Southampton Chemistry

Lead Research Organisation: University of Southampton
Department Name: School of Chemistry


In its simplest terms mass spectrometry is a technique for weighing compounds or molecules. This is achieved through an initial stage where the neutral compound becomes charged. This is called ionisation, and once ionised, these species (ions) can be separated using magnetic and/or electric fields.

For individual compounds analysis can be simple, but when dealing with mixtures other technologies are required. The mixtures need to be separated to identify the individual components; this is fundamentally separation science and there are a number of different ways to undertake this. The most common is called chromatography, which is a method of separating many different forms of chemical mixtures. Separations can be undertaken using gases or liquids. Ion mobility is another separation science technique, here individual species (ions) are separated because of differences in their shape. Combination of chromatography, ion mobility and mass spectrometry affords the most powerful modern day instrumentation for the analysis of complex mixtures.

The intrinsic complexity of an ion mobility mass spectrometer, such as the Synapt G2Si (already housed in the mass spectrometry facility at Southampton Chemistry), requires a highly trained, dedicated, specialist operator to fully maximise the capacity and showcase the capability of this cutting edge scientific instrumentation. This proposal will fund a new two year full-time position for a specialist analyst. This person will initially design and implement generic experimental protocols and train existing staff and early adopter researchers. This research differs from the predominantly biological focus of other ion mobility mass spectrometers across Southampton and the UK. The new appointee will develop bespoke methods for advanced research projects, locally and regionally, and also engage other researchers by developing training activities and working with researchers to produce open-access publications.

Planned Impact

This proposal is to appoint an experienced and expert Experimental Officer to work on ion mobility mass spectrometry instrumentation (Synapt G2Si) at the University of Southampton. The instrumentation is already housed within the Chemistry mass spectrometry and this advanced cutting-edge technology is the most recent addition to this facility. The aim is to unlock the potential of ion mobility mass spectrometry (particularly in the non 'Omics arena) to place Southampton at the forefront of ion mobility mass spectrometry, locally in the south-central region and the UK. The majority of impact will be realised through the research enabled by the ion mobility mass spectrometry technology.

The addition of an Experimental Officer is essential to unlock the ion mobility mass spectrometry capacity and capability to benefit research programmes aligned with the EPSRC portfolio particularly in Energy and Healthcare Technologies. The research areas of the users of IM-MS in the first phase of the proposal, span EPSRC Strategic Research Priorities including, Healthy Nation and Resilient Nation and the Dial-a-Molecule and Direct Assembly Grand Challenges. The research enabled will be published in high quality open access journals and presented at national and international conferences to maximise the impact to areas of science new to ion mobility mass spectrometry. Research enabled by ion mobility mass spectrometry will be publicised rapidly using the most effective communication channels (press releases and social media) and open access journals.

Training and education will form an important role of the impact of the appointee. Standard operating protocols and procedure material will be developed and this will be used to train existing and future users. Advanced one-to-one training will also be provided to key users who may benefit from more in-depth instruction which in turn will open further capacity as they develop into power users.

The Experimental Officer will arrange a number of symposia to showcase the impact of new ion mobility mass spectrometry applications and will work with a University of Southampton Knowledge Transfer Manager to explore links with local industries. Engagement with the public and future generations of young scientists is crucial and the Chemistry outreach team already host open days, work shadowing and hands-on activity days. ion mobility mass spectrometry technology will be show-cased at these events to highlight its significant use in a number of hot-topic news stories e.g. airport security and drug testing.


10 25 50
Description • Size/shape measurements that align with predicted structures of ions (protomers) for small agrochemical molecules for PhD thesis and future publication
• Provided expert advice, training and information to researchers (ECR and staff) with regards to the applicability of ion mobility to their projects
• Initial work investigating the role of ion mobility in new areas of chemistry, e.g. rotaxanes, derivatised albumin and small drug-protein interactions
* Coupling of the ion mobility spectrometer to advanced liquid chromatography (supercritical fluid chromatography) - polymers and fuels

All the above providing new knowledge across a range of new ion mobility application areas
Exploitation Route Applications of ion mobility to aid small molecule MS/MS interpreation by identifying different protomers.

Use of IMS coupled to UHPSFC-MS for anaylsis of

isocyanate polymers to determine batch to batch differences in starting materials, e.g. polymers used as excipients in pharmaceuticals and agrochemicals
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Chemicals,Energy,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology