March 18, 2022
Research Highlight

A High-Performance Miniature Ion Mobility Spectrometer

Development of a one-meter path length miniature ion mobility spectrometer based on multilevel structures for lossless ion manipulations.


A one-meter path length miniature structures for lossless ion manipulations (SLIM) ion mobility spectrometer. The SLIM analyzer has multiple levels and is small enough to fit in the hand, yet it provides high quality ion mobility separations.

(Illustration by Nathan Johnson | Pacific Northwest National Laboratory)

The Science                                 

Ion mobility spectrometry (IMS) is a useful analytical technique that separates gas phase ions based on their size and electrical charge. In conventional IMS, ions travel over a given distance until they reach a detector, with small ions usually arriving before big ions. When IMS are long, ions have more time to separate, and well separated ions are easier to tell apart. However, shorter (or miniature) instruments are desirable since they tend to be inexpensive, portable, and accessible. Unfortunately, it is typically challenging to construct an instrument that is both miniature and capable of performing high quality IMS separations.

The Impact

Having a small, high performance IMS instrument can circumvent many of the physical requirements that larger instruments have (e.g., laboratory space, power, cost). This means that most researchers can obtain high quality IMS separations in field research or at a bedside. Furthermore, the miniature IMS can be readily interfaced with existing laboratory equipment, like a mass spectrometer, or it can be operated as a stand-alone system. It is simple to switch between either mode, meaning that researchers can obtain high performance IMS separations in most settings.


Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) researchers created the structures for lossless ion manipulations (SLIM) technology that separates gas phase ions based on their size and electrical charge. Licensed commercially, the technology uses a unique snake-like path to increase the distance ions travel before reaching a detector, thus allowing the small ions more time to separate from the big ions. Researchers have taken the technology a step further by creating a miniature version that fits in the palm of your hand, operates autonomously, and produces the same high-quality measurements as the original technology. Overall, the miniSLIM provides a compact alternative to high performance IMS instruments possessing similar path lengths.


This work utilized capabilities developed under the support of the PNNL Laboratory Directed Research and Development imitative and the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. This project was performed in the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory, a Department of Energy Office of Science user facility at PNNL. PNNL is a multiprogram national laboratory operated by Battelle for the Department of Energy.

Published: March 18, 2022

A. L. Hollerbach et al., “A Miniature Multilevel Structures for Lossless Ion Manipulations Ion Mobility Spectrometer with Wide Mobility Range Separation Capabilities.” Analytical Chemistry 94, 2180 (2022). [DOI:]