May 25, 2024

Researchers Successfully 3D Print Lightweight and Affordable Components for Portable Mass Spectrometer

In a breakthrough development, researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have successfully 3D printed a mass filter, a critical component of a mass spectrometer. The 3D-printed filter, known as a quadrupole, is significantly lighter and cheaper than traditional filters, with a fabrication time of only a few hours and a cost of a few dollars. The precision and performance of the 3D-printed device are comparable to some commercial-grade filters that are valued at over $100,000 and take weeks to manufacture.

Traditional mass spectrometers are bulky, expensive, and prone to damage, which limits their effective deployment in various applications such as crime scene analysis, toxicology testing, and geological surveying. The ability to 3D print lightweight, affordable, and precise mass filters could revolutionize the field of mass spectrometry.

The quadrupole filter is made from a durable and heat-resistant glass-ceramic resin and is 3D printed in one step, eliminating the need for assembly that can introduce defects. The researchers leveraged additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, to achieve the ideal size and shape necessary for maximum precision and sensitivity. The filter is produced using vat photopolymerization, where liquid resin is cured layer by layer with the help of LEDs.

The researchers believe that the lightweight and affordable quadrupole filter opens up a wide range of possibilities for portable mass spectrometry. For instance, scientists can bring portable mass spectrometers to remote areas, such as rainforests, to rapidly analyze potential pollutants without the need to ship samples back to a laboratory. Furthermore, the lightweight device would be more cost-effective and easier to send into space, where it could monitor chemicals in Earth’s atmosphere or on other planets.

According to Luis Fernando Velásquez-García, a principal research scientist at MIT, the team’s success in 3D printing the quadrupole is a significant step toward their ultimate goal of producing a fully 3D-printed portable mass spectrometer. He emphasized that while other miniaturized quadrupoles exist, they are not comparable to commercial-grade filters in terms of performance.

The researchers plan to further improve the performance of the quadrupole by optimizing its length to allow for more precise measurements. They also intend to explore different ceramic materials that can provide better heat transfer.

The breakthrough in 3D printing affordable and lightweight components for mass spectrometers has attracted attention from experts in the field. Graham Cooks, a distinguished professor of chemistry at Purdue University, called it a significant advance that brings together knowledge of advanced materials, drive electronics, and mass spectrometry. Steve Taylor, a professor of electrical engineering and electronics at the University of Liverpool, echoed this sentiment, highlighting the importance of the development for the entire mass spectrometry field.

While there is still work to be done, the MIT researchers are optimistic about the impact of their innovation. Their vision is to create a fully 3D-printed mass spectrometer, where all key components are fabricated using additive manufacturing, resulting in a device that is lightweight, cost-effective, and high-performing. The successful 3D printing of the quadrupole marks a significant step toward achieving this goal and has the potential to revolutionize the field of mass spectrometry.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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