Why Is Sensitivity an Important Specification in Mass Spectrometry?

TOFWERK frequently emphasizes the high sensitivity of our products.  What does that actually mean, and does it matter for your measurements?

Practical Implications of High Sensitivity in Mass Spectrometry

The video below uses the example of detecting trace levels of the compound TCA in cork wine stoppers to explain the practical implications of high sensitivity.    Part-per-trillion levels of TCA in a cork stopper can taint a wine and destroy its flavor.    To robustly screen the millions of corks that are produced each year, cork manufacturers need a method capable of measuring very small amounts of TCA with extremely high throughput. 

The sensitivity of a mass spectrometer is the intensity of signal recorded for a fixed concentration of the sample.  Accurate characterization of a sample will require measurement a certain minimum signal intensity.   A high sensitivity mass spectrometer will measure that amount of signal faster!

Relationship Between Speed and Sensitivity 

For the case of our cork manufacturer, this relationship between sensitivity and speed yields some simple to understand scenarios:

  1. Use a single low-sensitivity instrument to measure the cork stoppers very slowly 
  2. Use multiple low-sensitivity instruments to measure more cork stoppers at the same time – increasing throughput but adding cost and complexity 
  3. Use a single high-sensitivity instrument to measure cork stoppers quickly – maximizing productivity with minimal complexity  

Which is to say, for the cork manufacturer, sensitivity = speed = money!

Watch and consider what sensitivity will mean for your measurements.