Which side of the line do you sit on? Let me break the ice: I sit on the chromatographer side. Most people sit firmly on either side of the line; not many consider themselves to be both. If you ask a chromatographer about mass spectrometry they will probably describe it as just another detector for their chromatography system, whilst if you ask a mass spectrometerist about chromatography they would probably indicate that chromatography is just there to feed the mass spectrometer. However, it is important for each side to discover the importance of each other to truly harness the power of both technologies; ensuring the correct UHPLC for LC-MS, for example, enables the efficient separation and delivery of analytes to the mass spectrometry. Whilst for the chromatographer, the mass spectrometer offers a much more powerful, accurate, sensitive and informative detector than UV-based detectors for example. What are each sides’ concerns and prejudices that need to be overcome for people to confidently say, “I am a chromatographer AND mass spectrometerist”?
Chromatographers’ View of Mass Spectrometry
I think I can speak for the chromatographers here that mass spectrometry is seen as a complex-to-operate instrument with additional software to learn and use. The cost of mass spectrometry may also be a consideration as even an entry-level mass spectrometer is typically more expensive than the most sophisticated chromatography detectors. Although this is somewhat negated by the additional detection capabilities of the mass spectrometer and ability to accurately identify analytes. For greater adoption of mass spectrometry by chromatographers, the perceived complexity has to be overcome. It needs to be easy to operate and entry-level systems have to be priced realistically to their capabilities against other detectors.
As mentioned, I think most mass spectrometerists think of chromatography as a necessary evil to deliver separated analytes to the mass spectrometer as this is where all the good stuff happens (not just mass confirmation, but structural and elemental information of the analyte). Without an effective separation from chromatography, complex samples would be difficult to analyse in the mass spectrometer due to matrix interference or multiple analytes to focus on causing less points per peak. In many cases, I believe that the importance of chromatography is often forgotten. By ensuring you have optimised the chromatography to obtain excellent separation, resolution and reproducibility as well as matching the throughput to the mass spectrometer, you can ensure that you are maximising the investment you have made in mass spectrometry. Again, more information on this topic is available in my previous article entitled ‘Don’t Forget About the LC in LC-MS’.
Whilst we tend to sit on one side of the fence or the other, if we are to gain the most benefit out of either chromatography or mass spectrometry then each side has to embrace each other to harness the power of both techniques. Technological advances are making this easier so hopefully in the near future the terms “just chromatographer” and “just mass spectrometerist” will become obsolete. What will we call this new hybrid? I’m a “chrometertist” – I’m sure you can come up with something better!
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