It is an unfortunate reality that today’s threat environment is becoming more aggressive and complex. As a result, First Responders are increasingly in need of new advanced technologies to keep pace with the threat landscape. The introduction of handheld spectroscopic instruments for chemical identification has already altered analysis capabilities in the field, however not all techniques have been quick to exit the laboratory.

Take for example mass spectrometry (MS), a powerful technique for chemical analysis – so powerful it is often referred to as the “gold standard.” Despite breakthroughs in recent years, which have brought the technology out of the lab in the form of person-portable “luggable” systems, these instruments have seen limited deployment due to their size, cost and complexity of use. Our high-pressure approach to mass spectrometry is breaking the mold and changing the perception of how and where MS analysis can be conducted—but misconceptions still exist. Here, we identify four of the most common misconceptions of mass spec and prove why these new devices are not as intimidating as you might think.

Mass spec is too heavy and fragile to use downrange

Traditional lab-based mass spectrometers are large, heavy instruments weighing upwards of hundreds of pounds. While the introduction of the transportable “luggable” MS systems was a huge step forward in bringing this technology out of the lab, these systems are still considered cumbersome as they weigh up to 35 pounds or more. While technically still portable, these systems are not ruggedized and must be handled with care so as to not disrupt operation.

A new technique called high-pressure mass spectrometry™ (HPMS) is fueling our ability to deliver this “gold standard” chemical analysis capability in a truly handheld form. HPMS, which uses micro-scale ion traps, unique on-board algorithm and integrated software, enables our devices to operate in the field with unprecedented levels of selectivity and sensitivity. Our flagship product, M908™, weighs less than 2kg (4.4 lbs. – which is 70 time lighter than traditional MS instruments) and is battery powered for uninterrupted operation in the field. The device is designed to specifically address MIL-Spec requirements, allowing it to operate in extreme conditions and withstand wear and tear, all while continuing to operate at the highest standard.

Mass spec is too complicated to operate in the hotzone 

Conventional mass spectrometers, those found in the centralized lab and their field-deployed “luggable” counterparts, are extremely complex and require extensive training to operate. As such, there is typically one individual with a PhD who has been trained to perform analysis, interpret results and maintain the instrument.

Unlike traditional mass spectrometers, M908 is easy to use across all skills levels after just 4-6 hours of training.  The user interface is instinctive and delivers results that are easy to understand and interpret.  A number of field replaceable components allow users to move through the hotzone to perform analysis without interruption.

Mass spec is too expensive 

Traditional mass spectrometers are pricey in more ways than one. Not only is the instrument itself expensive, there are additional costs associated with consumables as well as the training and daily maintenance.

The same can be said for luggable instruments which cost upwards of $150,000 to purchase, and can also include an additional $1,000 per year in consumables. There are also continuous training and maintenance costs associated with these instruments. As a result, most response teams only have one, if that.

In comparison, M908 was designed with field serviceable components and very few required consumables, so maintenance and upkeep costs are significantly reduced. The efficiency of HPMS has enabled the purchase price to be cut nearly by a third when compared to luggable or mobile lab instruments

Mass spec doesn’t offer much value to those using portable Raman, FTIR and IMS equipment

Today, the First Responder toolkit contains a robust selection of analytical tools, each with a specific job to perform.  But unfortunately each comes with its own set of limitations. For example, Raman and FTIR instruments require large amounts of sample to be present in order to conduct analysis.  Meanwhile, IMS devices notoriously suffer from frequent false positive alerts and are typically not very selective.

Handheld mass spec tools complement the capabilities of IMS, Raman and FTIR devices by adding focused chemical analysis capabilities to downrange operations. Our unique approach to MS allows M908 to operate at unprecedented levels of selectivity and sensitivity down to the parts-per-million level adding deep chemical analysis capabilities at the point of need.

Together the right tools can enable First Responders to quickly and safely monitor the air for harmful airborne hazards and continue on to conduct analysis on seen and unseen targets to discern threats and protect lives. This type of immediate situational awareness is key to reaction time and threat neutralization.

First Response teams around the globe are realizing the true value of an analytical technique that was once surrounded by restrictions.  M908 is changing the way industry thinks about MS, putting PhDs in the hands of First Responders who never dreamed that adding MS to their toolkit could be so simple.