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A new Skoltech US patent: an open dynamically harmonized trap for the ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometer

Skoltech scientists have been granted a US patent for a new type of the Penning trap for very high-resolution ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometers. The new trap that ensures higher resolution in analyzing complex molecular mixtures can be integrated into the vacuum system of the most powerful ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometers known to date.

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Mass spectrometry helps identify mixture composition by measuring the weights of its constituent molecules. The most powerful mass spectrometers can differentiate between large molecules with very similar weights by using ion cyclotron resonance to detect signals from ions that move around in a strong magnetic field created by a superconducting solenoid. Mass spectrometry resolution can be enhanced by creating a stronger magnetic field, which is a very expensive method, considering that a super strong magnet costs millions of dollars, whereas resolution does not increase in proportion to magnetic field strength as theory predicts. A team of researchers led by Evgeny Nikolaev, a Professor at Skoltech and a Corresponding Member of RAS, found that the reason for this disproportion is that vacuum inside the trap is not deep enough no matter how high the pumping speed is. The scientists solved the problem by using an open ion trap design. Simulations of the new trap, which is yet to be manufactured, have confirmed that it does help attain maximum resolution through an increase in magnetic field strength.

“Currently, ion cyclotron mass spectrometers use closed-cylinder traps, which makes it difficult, if not downright impossible, to achieve ultra-high vacuum inside the trap. We suggested a new trap design with both ends open, enabling easy air evacuation to maintain proper vacuum levels. We hope that our trap will be manufactured here at Skoltech and at US labs which have mass spectrometers fitted with super strong magnets. We are also hopeful that Bruker, the leading manufacturer of this type of mass spectrometers, will launch serial production of our new trap, as it did for our traps with dynamic harmonization that are now used in all Bruker ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometers,” Nikolaev says.

Victoria Imanova, hеаd of Knowledge Transfer Office, says that patenting abroad itself is a rather laborious and expensive procedure. “A patent application must be approved by Rospatent, but it must also meet all the requirements for patentability of a foreign patent office. The grant of this patent reconfirms that the research and technologies that Skoltech scientists are working on meet international standards of novelty and a high level of inventiveness and are oriented towards the global market,” she explains. 

According to Nikolaev, mass spectrometers with a new type of trap will enable more accurate analysis of biological samples and complex compounds, such as oil, which is already facilitated by ion cyclotron resonance capable of detecting up to 400,000 different compounds.

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