Cluster chemical ionization for improved confidence level in sample identification by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry

Alexander B. Fialkov, Aviv Amirav*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Upon the supersonic expansion of helium mixed with vapor from an organic solvent (e.g. methanol), various clusters of the solvent with the sample molecules can be formed. As a result of 70 eV electron ionization of these clusters, cluster chemical ionization (cluster CI) mass spectra are obtained. These spectra are characterized by the combination of EI mass spectra of vibrationally cold molecules in the supersonic molecular beam (cold EI) with CI-like appearance of abundant protonated molecules, together with satellite peaks corresponding to protonated or non-protonated clusters of sample compounds with 1-3 solvent molecules. Like CI, cluster CI preferably occurs for polar compounds with high proton affinity. However, in contrast to conventional CI, for non-polar compounds or those with reduced proton affinity the cluster CI mass spectrum converges to that of cold EI. The appearance of a protonated molecule and its solvent cluster peaks, plus the lack of protonation and cluster satellites for prominent EI fragments, enable the unambiguous identification of the molecular ion. In turn, the insertion of the proper molecular ion into the NIST library search of the cold EI mass spectra eliminates those candidates with incorrect molecular mass and thus significantly increases the confidence level in sample identification. Furthermore, molecular mass identification is of prime importance for the analysis of unknown compounds that are absent in the library. Examples are given with emphasis on the cluster CI analysis of carbamate pesticides, high explosives and unknown samples, to demonstrate the usefulness of Supersonic GC/MS (GC/MS with supersonic molecular beam) in the analysis of these thermally labile compounds. Cluster CI is shown to be a practical ionization method, due to its ease-of-use and fast instrumental conversion between EI and cluster CI, which involves the opening of only one valve located at the make-up gas path. The ease-of-use of cluster CI is analogous to that of liquid CI in ion traps with internal ionization, and is in marked contrast to that of CI with most other standard GC/MS systems that require a change of the ion source.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1326-1338
Number of pages13
JournalRapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry
Issue number12
StatePublished - 2003


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