LC-MS analysis

Liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS) is a combined technique used to systematically separate and analyze the compounds present in a sample. LC-MS is ideal for splitting up complicated mixtures and identifying unknown chemical species. Combined with its high sensitivity, this makes it a popular technique across different industries.

LC-MS analysis
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What is LC-MS analysis used for?

One common use of LC-MS is specific migration testing of food contact materials, where the method is used to quantify the migration of specified toxicologically concerning substances from the contact material to a food simulant. Examples of this include bisphenol A testing and primary aromatic amine (PAA) screening.

LC-MS is also used in biochemical research to investigate proteins and other large molecules and in pharmaceutical development for research and quality control. In environmental analysis, LC-MS is commonly used to analyze water, soil, and other natural samples. Its ability to separate compounds based on molecular weight also makes it indispensable in the analysis of large molecules in polymer and material science.

How does LC-MS work?

LC-MS is a technique of two halves. Firstly, the sample is separated through liquid chromatography. This involves passing it through a column containing a stationary phase, which is usually silica or another inert solid, and a mobile phase, which is a solvent. Different compounds will pass through the column at different rates, which effectively separates them, staggering the times at which they reach the end of the column.

As each component reaches the end, it enters the mass spectrometer section. Here, each chemical species is ionized and accelerated through a flight chamber. The effect of the electric and magnetic fields in the chamber causes the ions to be separated based on their respective masses and electrical charges. As they reach the end they are detected, which creates a log of the different molecular weights that have passed through the system.

Sample requirements and preparation

LC-MS samples must be able to pass through a liquid chromatography column, that is, they must be in the form of a liquid or solution. Solid samples can be tested if they are first dissolved in a suitable solvent. 

Advantages of LC-MS

LC-MS can detect components within a solution down to parts per million concentrations, making it incredibly sensitive. The method can be used on a wide variety of sample types, and can easily detect several components in a sample, even helping to identify unknown components.

Limitations of LC-MS

LC-MS is a destructive technique, as samples are ionized and broken apart during the latter half of the analysis. It also has a slower throughput than some less complicated techniques, such as GC-MS. Certain solutions and contaminants can affect the results gathered from LC-MS and therefore may not be suitable for testing.

What is liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS)?

LC-MS/MS is fundamentally similar to standard LC-MS. The difference is that the second half is replaced by a technique called tandem mass spectrometry (denoted as MS/MS). In tandem mass spectrometry, the analyte is passed through two separate mass spectrometry setups in sequence, enabling more in-depth analysis and improved sensitivity. This makes LC-MS/MS ideal for detecting trace quantities of analytes, such as nitrosamine impurities in pharmaceuticals or persistent organic pollutant (POP) traces in food.

Need an LC-MS analysis?

Measurlabs offers high-quality analytical services with techniques including LC-MS, HPLC-MS, and UPLC-MS/MS. Check out our liquid chromatography-based analyses and place an order online. Our experts will always confirm the suitability of the method for your samples before orders are processed.

Suitable sample matrices

  • Organic solutions
  • Proteins
  • Dissolved polymers
  • Water samples
  • Pharmaceuticals

Ideal uses of LC-MS

  • Determining molecular weights during polymerization
  • Identifying parts of larger biomolecules
  • Identifying unknown organic contaminants
  • Detecting impurities in water samples
  • Testing for toxins

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Frequently asked questions

What is LC-MS commonly used for?

Common applications of LC-MS include pharmaceutical and food industry quality control. In environmental testing, LC-MS can be used to quantify PFAS compounds and other selected contaminants in water.

What are the limitations of LC-MS?

Compared to other methods, LC-MS analysis is relatively expensive and time-consuming. HPLC-DAD can be a more straightforward and cost-effective alternative for some analyses.

What is Measurlabs?

Measurlabs offers a variety of laboratory analyses for product developers and quality managers. We perform some of the analyses in our own lab, but mostly we outsource them to carefully selected partner laboratories. This way we can send each sample to the lab that is best suited for the purpose, and offer high-quality analyses with more than a thousand different methods to our clients.

How does the service work?

When you contact us through our contact form or by email, one of our specialists will take ownership of your case and answer your query. You get an offer with all the necessary details about the analysis, and can send your samples to the indicated address. We will then take care of sending your samples to the correct laboratories and write a clear report on the results for you.

How do I send my samples?

Samples are usually delivered to our laboratory via courier. Contact us for further details before sending samples.