September 6, 2023
Journal Article

Reducing ion diffusion at atmospheric pressure through intermingled positive and negative ions


Increasing ion molecule reaction times for ambient ionization techniques can increase sensitivity of detection. Longer reaction times result in an increase in analyte signal relative to the reactant ion signal, however with a subsequent decrease in the total ion intensity. This loss in the total number of ions reaching the detector limits the extent to which increased reaction time can improve detection in practical applications. In this study ion loss was measured using either electric fields or gas flow to control ion transit time. Ion transit times ranged from 40 ms to 8 s, which resulted in ion densities ranging from 5 x 106 to 2 x 104 ions/cm3, respectively. These results provide insights into practical reaction time limitations or experimental boundaries when exploring sensitivity enhancements in ambient ionization. When exploring longer reaction times with an atmospheric flow tube coupled to a mass spectrometer (AFT-MS), an additional corona discharge ionization source of the same polarity was added in an attempt to increase total ion signal, but no improvement in signal was observed. This observation suggested that there was a maximum ion density being reached by the corona discharge that could not be increased by adding more of the same polarity ions. A hypothesis was that intermingling both polarities of ions would reduce ion loss and increase the measured ion signal. When two corona discharge sources—one each of positive and negative polarity—were used simultaneously in an AFT-MS, the total ion signal of either polarity measured by the MS was approximately double the current from a single corona discharge source. An increase in the negative ion signal was also observed when ~10 parts-per-trillion vapor levels of an explosive (RDX) were introduced. In this case both the nitrate reactant ions and the RDX signal more than doubled with the addition of a corona discharge source producing positive ions. When intermingling positive and negative ions, an increase in ion current was also observed when the AFT was coupled directly to a Faraday detector or to an ion mobility spectrometer. This was the first demonstration of interfacing the AFT to an IMS. The observations and developments from this work will help in creating more portable instruments with improved sensitivity for detection of chemicals.

Published: September 6, 2023


Ewing R.G., G.L. Hart, M.K. Nims, S.E. Murphy, S. Johnson, J. Chun, and E.H. Denis. 2023. Reducing ion diffusion at atmospheric pressure through intermingled positive and negative ions. International Journal of Mass Spectrometry 492. PNNL-SA-185511. doi:10.1016/j.ijms.2023.117115