GC–MS with photoionization of cold molecules in supersonic molecular beams—Approaching the softest ionization method

Alexander B. Fialkov, Elias Ikonen, Tiina Laaksonen, Aviv Amirav*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A new type of photoionization ion source was developed for the ionization of cold molecules in supersonic molecular beams (named Cold PI). The system was based on a GC–MS with supersonic molecular beams and its fly-through EI of cold molecules ion source (Cold EI) plus quadrupole mass analyzer. A continuously operated deuterium VUV photoionization lamp was added and placed above and between the supersonic nozzle and skimmer whereas the Cold EI ion source served only as a portion of the ion transfer ion optics. The supersonic nozzle and skimmer were voltage biased and the VUV light crossed the supersonic expansion about 10 mm from the nozzle. We obtained over three orders of magnitude enhancement in the relative abundance of the molecular ion of squalane in Cold PI versus in photoionization of this compound as a thermal compound. Accordingly, we also proved that standard photoionization is not as soft ionization method as previously perceived for large compounds. We found that Cold PI is as soft as and possibly softer than field ionization; thus, it could be the softest known ionization method. The ionization yield was about 200–300 times weaker than with Cold EI yet our limit of detection was about 200 femtogram in SIM mode for cholesterol and pyrene which is reasonable. Practically, all hydrocarbons gave only molecular ions with rather uniform response whereas alcohols gave some molecular ions plus major fragment ions particularly with a loss of water (similarly to field ionization). We tested Cold PI in the GC–MS analysis of diesel fuels and analyzed the time averaged data for group type information. We also found that we can analyze the diesel fuels by fast under 20-s flow injection analysis in which the generated averaged mass spectrum of molecular ions only could serve for the characterization of fuels.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere4516
JournalJournal of Mass Spectrometry
Issue number9
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2020


FundersFunder number
Neste Oyj Company
Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities356/15
Israel Science Foundation


    • Cold EI
    • Cold PI
    • GC–MS
    • photoionization
    • supersonic molecular beams


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