Electron impact mass spectrometry of alkanes in supersonic molecular beams

Shai Dagan, Aviv Amirav*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The electron impact mass spectrometry of straight chain alkanes C8H18-C40H82, squalane, methylstearate, 1-chlorohexadecane, 1-bromohexadecane, and dioctylphthalate was studied by sampling them with supersonic molecular beams. A fly-through Brink-type electron impact ion source was used, utilizing a vacuum background ion filtration technique based on differences between the kinetic energy of the supersonic beam species and that of thermal molecules. The 70-eV electron impact mass spectra of all the alkanes were characterized by a pronounced or dominant molecular weight peak together with all the fragment ions normally exhibited by the standard thermal 70-eV EI mass spectra. In contrast, the NIST library of most of these molecules did not show any molecular weight peak. By eliminating the intramolecular thermal vibrational energy we gained control over the degree of molecular ion fragmentation by the electron energy. At an electron energy of 18 eV the molecular ion dissociation was further reduced considerably, with only a small absolute reduction in the peak height by less than a factor of 2. The effect of vibrational cooling increased with the molecular size and number of atoms. Pronounced differences were observed between the mass spectra of the straight chain triacontane and its branched isomer squalane. Similar mass spectra of octacosane (C28H58) achieved with 70-eV EI in a supersonic molecular beam were obtained with a magnetic sector mass spectrometer by using an electron energy of 14 eV and an ion source temperature of 150 °C. However, this ion source temperature precluded the gas chromatography—mass spectrometry (GC-MS) of octacosane. The GC-MS of alkanes was studied with an ion trap gas chromatograph—mass spectrometer at an ion source temperature of 230 °C. Thermal peak tailing was observed for C20H42 and heavier alkanes, whereas for C28H58 and heavier alkanes the severe peak tailing made quantitative GC-MS impractical. In contrast, no peak tailing existed even with C40H82 for GC-MS in supersonic molecular beams. The minimum detected amount of eicosane (C20H42) was shown to be 60 fg. This was demonstrated by using single ion monitoring with the quadrupole mass analyzer tuned to the molecular weight peak of 282 u. The coupling of electron impact mass spectrometry in supersonic molecular beams with hyperthermal surface ionization and a fast GC-MS inlet is briefly discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)120-131
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of the American Society for Mass Spectrometry
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1995


Dive into the research topics of 'Electron impact mass spectrometry of alkanes in supersonic molecular beams'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this