Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have produced a core component for portable mass spectrometers using 3D printing. As MIT writes in a press release, this is a quadrupole mass filter. This can be manufactured much more easily and cheaply than conventional mass filters.
Mass spectrometers are used for the chemical analysis of substances. They are used in criminalistics, medicine and geology, for example. However, the devices are usually bulky, expensive and sensitive. This severely limits their use in remote areas.
High-precision printing from glass-ceramic plastic
Researchers led by Luis Fernando Velásquez-García from MIT have now succeeded in producing a quadrupole mass filter using 3D printing. This is just as precise as some commercially available mass filters costing over 100,000 US dollars, but is significantly cheaper and quicker to produce.
According to MIT, a glass-ceramic-based plastic that can withstand high temperatures is used. With the help of a VAT photopolymerization 3D printer, the component could be produced in one piece. It therefore does not have to be assembled separately, which reduces sources of error.
Lighter and modularly expandable
The plastic mass filter is only a quarter as dense as comparable stainless steel variants. In tests with a commercial mass spectrometer, the 3D-printed components even achieved higher resolutions than other miniature filters.
According to Velásquez-García, this is an important step on the way to a completely 3D-printed, portable mass spectrometer. This could be used to analyze substances on site in remote areas without having to send in samples. Other components such as ion sources could be added on a modular basis.