What is mass spectrometry?

Mass spectrometry (MS) is a technique that analyzes ions based on their mass-to-charge (m/z) ratio to determine their identity and quantity in simple and complex mixtures. Mass spectrometers typically consist of an ionization source, an analyzer and a detector.

The introduced sample is ionized inside the ionization source, after which it is accelerated, under vacuum, through electric and magnetic fields. Ions deflect and separate, and the radius of their path (and their eventual location on the detector) is a function of their masses. Spectral data are then generated through integrated computers and software platforms.

MS is used to analyze a wide variety of compounds, from petrochemicals to proteins. It has been applied to carbon dating, isotope enrichment, water quality testing, drug discovery, pharma/biopharma, environmental impact studies, genomics, proteomics, metabolomics, forensic toxicology and sports doping. Certain spacecraft and satellites make use of on-board MS systems to perform assessments of solar and planetary events.

Mass spectrometry features

Orbitrap applications

Learn how Orbitrap-based systems and software can be applied towards the discovery, detection and analysis of targeted and untargeted compounds.


This handbook set provides detailed methods for the preparation of peptides and protein samples for MS. Learn about controls, standards, protein quantitation and more.

Mass spectrometry subtopics

Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry Information

Volatile and low molecular weight analytes are often analyzed by GC-MS. Learn how this technology enables the identification of specific substances such as drugs and pesticides while offering a low cost of operation.

Liquid Chromatography Mass Spectrometry Information

LC-MS is used in the analysis of non-volatile and thermally labile samples. Learn how LC-MS ensures high sensitivity and selectivity during detection of higher molecular weight materials found in complex matrices.

Mass Spectrometry Applications Areas

Different fields of study use mass spectrometry to analyze and quantify samples, and to elucidate the atomic and molecular identities of compounds present in complex mixtures. Find specific sample prep procedures and workflows here.

Mass Spectrometry Technology Overview

Mass spectrometry is a process that involves ionization, fragmentation, selection, detection and analysis. How do all these steps come together to elucidate the amounts and chemical identities of target analytes? Learn about the process here.

Mass Spectrometry Resource Library

Further your knowledge of mass spectrometry applications and technologies with our comprehensive collection of applications and technical notes, peer-reviewed journal publications, webinars, posters and more.