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... and its demands nowadays

In 1913 the foundation of mass spectrometry was laid by J.J. Thomson in his work on “rays of positive electricity”. For the first time ionized species were spatially separated by their mass to charge ratio and a mass spectrum appeared on a photo plate.Thomson developed a new technique with its three pillars “ionization”, “mass analyzation” and “detection”, which are still the essential parts of each mass spectrometer type. In these early days mass spectrometers revolutionized the understanding of matter by revealing isotopes, new ion species and previously unknown fundamental molecular processes.      

In the 1960s the computer technology rapidly developed and pushed the application of mass spectrometry an essential step forward. However, operating these machines still required experts in the field, at least until the commercial breakthrough in the mid-1980s. Then mass spectrometers started approaching nearly every scientific area with interest in molecular information, even far beyond the mere mass.

Nowadays user-friendly mass spectrometers off-the-shelf are firmly integrated in particular into areas issuing food-, environmental-, process- and bioanalytical applications. This development in fact is quite positive, however, an unbalanced knowledge transfer with its main focus on the mere application side decouples the user-specific issue from the knowledge of the profound physical and chemical processes between sample injection and the appearance of a mass spectrum on the screen.

A tendency that abandons the great knowledge of the mass spectrometric pioneers. A tendency that constantly reinvents well known science and that leads to mass spectral data interpretation without critical reflection of relevant, measurement specific parameters. A tendency of creating a black box. However, mass spectrometry is an analytical instrumentation which’s measurement results are so crucially impacted by a vast set of parameters.

Nevertheless, the outstanding versatility of this technique gives reason for its triumphal march and it will also be in future an integral part of the labs around the world.

Consequently, in the field of mass spectrometry is an enormous and rapidly increasing scientifically as well as economically demand for skilled researchers and professional workers. They should be trained to view a mass spectrometer, its method and its technical developments, its applications and its recorded data in a chemically, physically and technically sound light.