Ambient Femtosecond Laser Vaporization and Nanosecond Laser Desorption Electrospray Ionization Mass Spectrometry

Annual Review of Analytical Chemistry

Vol. 7:229-256 (Volume publication date June 2014)


Recent investigations of ambient laser-based transfer of molecules into the gas phase for subsequent mass spectral analysis have undergone a renaissance resulting from the separation of vaporization and ionization events. Here, we seek to provide a snapshot of recent femtosecond (fs) duration laser vaporization and nanosecond (ns) duration laser desorption electrospray ionization mass spectrometry experiments. The former employs pulse durations of <100 fs to enable matrix-free laser vaporization with little or no fragmentation. When coupled to electrospray ionization, femtosecond laser vaporization provides a universal, rapid mass spectral analysis method requiring no sample workup. Remarkably, laser pulses with intensities exceeding 1013 W cm−2 desorb intact macromolecules, such as proteins, and even preserve the condensed phase of folded or unfolded protein structures according to the mass spectral charge state distribution, as demonstrated for cytochrome c and lysozyme. Because of the ability to vaporize and ionize multiple components from complex mixtures for subsequent analysis, near perfect classification of explosive formulations, plant tissue phenotypes, and even the identity of the manufacturer of smokeless powders can be determined by multivariate statistics. We also review the more mature field of nanosecond laser desorption for ambient mass spectrometry, covering the wide range of systems analyzed, the need for resonant absorption, and the spatial imaging of complex systems like tissue samples.