Characteristics of low-temperature plasma ionization for ambient mass spectrometry compared to electrospray ionization and atmospheric pressure chemical ionization.
Ambient desorption/ionization mass spectrometry (ADI-MS) is an attractive method for direct analysis with applications in homeland security, forensics, and human health. For example, low-temperature plasma probe (LTP) ionization was successfully used to detect, e.g., explosives, drugs, and pesticides directly on the target. Despite the fact that the field is gaining significant attention, few attempts have been made to classify ambient ionization techniques based on their ionization characteristics and performance compared to conventional ionization sources used in mass spectrometry. In the present study, relative ionization efficiencies (RIEs) for a large group of compound families were determined with LTP-Orbitrap-MS and compared to those obtained with electrospray ionization mass spectrometry (ESI-MS) and atmospheric pressure chemical ionization mass spectrometry (APCI-MS). RIEs were normalized against one reference compound used across all methods to ensure comparability of the results. Typically, LTP analyte ionization through protonation/deprotonation (e.g., 4-acetamidophenol) was observed; in some cases (e.g., acenaphthene) radicals were formed. Amines, amides, and aldehydes were ionized successfully with LTP. A benefit of LTP over conventional methods is the possibility to successfully ionize PAHs and imides. Here, the studied model compounds could be detected by neither APCI nor ESI. LTP is a relatively soft ionization method because little fragmentation of model compounds was observed. It is considered to be an attractive method for the ionization of low molecular weight compounds over a relatively wide polarity range.