The Future

Table 1 is a summary of current IMS research areas and applications. The future development of this technique can be seen to fall into three broad areas:

• The development and improvement of IMS technology. The problems of instrument saturation, nonlinear responses and complex ambiguous responses are difficult research challenges that will occupy many involved in IMS research and development. New ionization methods and better understanding of the fluid dynamics and kinetics of the ionization process are likely to be important development areas for some time.

• Sampling interfaces and applications. Improvements in sampling technology will enable IMS to be exploited in a wider range of contexts. Certainly the successful use of IMS in presumptive testing for narcotics and explosives has interesting possibilities when applied to a wide range of industrial, medical and environmental issues.

Table 1 A summary of current research and application activity in IMS


Application area


Volatile organic compounds (VOC)

Surfaces, bulk materials





DNA and nucleotides Bacteria

Environmental, process, clinical, and forensic analysis

Workplace monitoring

Chemical agent monitoring

Space craft cabin atmosphere monitoring

Extra-terrestrial VOC monitoring

Kinetic and thermodynamic determinations of ion formations, lifetimes and stabilities

Contaminated soil analysis Surface characterization

Environmental and process analysis

Life sciences Drug discovery Clinical analysis Foodstuffs characterization

Food safety Microbiology Biological warfare Clinical analysis

Established areas of operation for IMS. Commercial instruments available that are reliable, rugged and designed for use by the nonspecialist.

Recent development offering rapid measurement techniques for characterizing gas-phase reactions. Not yet applied to larger molecules.

Laser ablation and desorption techniques, developed recently, have significantly expanded the scope of applications that IMS may be applied to.

Electrospray ionization has expanded massively the types of analyte and analysis that may now be undertaken with IMS.

Conformer and isomer separations now routinely achievable. Structure elucidation and fast separations of complex mixtures now a possibility.

Pyrolysis techniques offer detection limits of 4 to 5 organisms dm~3, while ELISA approaches are offering fast and highly selective detection methodologies.

• High speed separations. The combination of mobility and mass spectrometric technologies described in Figure 5 offers analysis times in the regions of milliseconds to seconds per component. The development of this technology and its application to the life sciences is likely to be a major, perhaps the major, area of IMS development in the medium term. However, the performance of such instrument assemblies has to be offset against their significant capital costs. Miniaturization will play a vital role in this area, reducing the initial outlay required to operate such systems. The work by NASA and the production of GC-IMS databases will continue and it is likely that IMS-based detection systems will become commercially available as alternative approaches to GC-MS.

From the disappointments of the early work with IMS, recent research has yielded substantial advances in this technique. Perhaps the next few years will see the acceptance of IMS as a mainstream analytical approach. Certainly the recent developments in bioseparations have taken many by surprise, and consequently there is a general feeling that the near future will see a huge expansion in the use and application of IMS, particularly in the life sciences.

See also: I/Mass Spectrometry. N/Chromatography: Gas: Detectors: Mass Spectrometry; Detectors: Selective.

P. Jusforgues, Prochrom, Champigneulles, France Copyright © 2000 Academic Press

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