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Close-up of a mass spectrometer

PI: Mark Brouard, Claire Vallance, Michael Burt and Jason Lee

Department: Chemistry

Analytical mass spectrometry spans industries ranging from drug discovery to security. Its market size is continually growing and is estimated to be nearly £5 billion. In 2010, we developed the Pixel Imaging Mass Spectrometry (PImMS) sensor to revolutionize mass spectrometry detection. We are now seeking EPSRC IAA funding to design a commercial sensor that improves the timing precision of PImMS to 1 ns and the sensitivity to the single-photon level. We have established with two leading mass spectrometer manufacturers, Bruker and Waters, that these thresholds are important for commercial viability. Reaching these goals will additionally remove the need for signal amplification and ultrahigh vacuum in mass spectrometry applications. An improved PImMS sensor will consequently offer better detection sensitivity and time resolution within a robust, low-cost package. This will open the door to new innovations in mass spectrometer design.

To accomplish the above goals, we propose to incorporate single photon avalanche diodes (SPADs) into the PImMS pixel array. These generate the precise output needed to achieve the required timing precision and sensitivity. EPSRC IAA funding will be used to test an existing 16 x 16 pixel prototype SPAD array for mass spectrometry imaging, and to refine a scaled-up chip that can be produced and deployed commercially. At the end of the project we will seek commercial sponsorship, or license our developed technology, to manufacture the scaled-up sensor.

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