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Plasma-assisted desorption ionization is an ionization technique in which a plasma is directed onto the sample surface, the desorbs and subsequently ionizes molecules from the surface. The capacity to identify trace quantities of explosive quantities quickly is critical for the effective and safe detection of explosives. This blog post will outline how mass spectrometry systems can facilitate versatile and responsive explosive detection in real-time, employing plasma-assisted desorption ionization (PADI).

The Importance of Explosive Detection

The capacity to detect common explosive compounds is critical for security applications, and air travel in particular demands high detection speed and low sample preparation requirements as well as the need for reliability across all platforms. Trace explosive detection is a non-destructive process which does not cause harm to the operator. Plasma-assisted desorption ionization is one of the techniques which can be used for explosive detection, providing fast, responsive detection of trace explosive molecules without requiring sample preparation.

How Does Plasma-Assisted Desorption Ionization Work?

Plasma-assisted desorption ionization employs a dielectric barrier discharge to create a non-thermal atmospheric pressure plasma jet. This means that plasma can be introduced safely and directly to a sample in ambient conditions. Unlike in other plasma-based techniques, this does not cause any damage to the sample.

The plasma jet ionizes and desorbs molecules straight from the sample surface, and at this point a mass spectrometer can detect ionized species. The characteristic mass spectra gathered is then compared to those of explosive materials. Many common explosive compounds such as trinitrotoluene (TNT), triacetone triperoxide (TATP) and pentaerythritol tetranitrate (PETN) can be detected down to trace levels employing this method.

How Hiden Analytical Uses Plasma-Assisted Desorption Ionization for Explosive Detection

The sample throughput rate which is attained using a plasma-assisted desorption ionization system is inhibited by the speed of the mass spectrometry system employed. The HPR-60 from Hiden Analytical is an atmospheric quadrupole mass spectrometer which has been optimized for plasma analysis. The HPR-60 can be used for direct analysis in real time, meaning it works well for explosive detection applications.

At Hiden Analytical, we offer high performance probes for mass and energy analysis of radicals, neutrals and ions from a plasma. A broad range of options can be selected to sample a broad range of plasma types. If you would like to find out more about plasma-assisted desorption ionization for explosive detection, contact us today for more information.