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Not only are our customers in the news - they make the news! We contribute to our customer's success with the very best science and technology that never stops advancing.  

Here we capture the more significant and interesting news stories we've been associated with along with our own.


Richard Sleeman, Founder of Mass Spec Analytical, has passed away aged 67

Richard Sleeman was a true pioneer in the field of forensic chemistry. His work has helped to make our communities safer by developing new and innovative methods for detecting trace quantities of drugs and explosives.

We are deeply saddened to inform you of the passing of our founder and colleague, Richard Sleeman. Dr Richard Sleeman BSc (Hons), PhD, CSci, CChem, FRSC, MFSSoc, a distinguished English chemist and a pioneer in the field of forensic chemistry, died suddenly on September 8, 2023, at the age of 67. He is survived by his wife Sue.

Richard Sleeman was born in Exeter, England, on December 3, 1955. His family moved to Bristol, where he attended Weston Grammar School. A keen athlete, he supported Exeter City Football Club, played tennis, and had an enthusiastic amateur football career on Bristol Downs throughout his university studies and first career at British Aerospace. He obtained his PhD from the University of Bristol and was a member of the Academy of Experts and a Law Society Checked Expert Witness from 1997 to 2019.
Dr Sleeman was one of the founders of Mass Spec Analytical Ltd., and for most of his career he specialized in the detection of trace quantities of drugs and explosives. He published over thirty scientific papers and articles on trace detection, and he was closely involved in the development of the techniques and methodologies employed in the examination of drugs traces on paper currency. He presented his work in court on approaching one hundred occasions, including at the Court of Appeal on three occasions. Richard's work has helped to make our communities safer and to reduce the crime associated with drug trafficking and terrorism.
In addition to his scientific accomplishments, Dr Sleeman was also a kind and generous person, always willing to help others. He was a passionate educator and mentor, and he helped to train many of the next generation of forensic scientists. He was also a great friend and colleague. He will be deeply missed by all who knew him.


Simplifying Explosives Detection

Delivering an exceptional Mass Spec-based defensive search capability is one challenge but making it assessable to non-MS users such as security personnel, is another one altogether

Mass Spec Analytical presented its latest Scentinel application software at a recent British Mass Spectrometry Society event. Produced in conjunction with our partners SpectralWorks Limited, the application takes the comprehensive analysis from a triple-quadrupole mass spectrometer instrument and reduces it to a simple Yes/No result. The operator gets instant feedback and expert users can review results, either on-site or remotely.

All data is archived and easily retrieved for data mining or trend analysis. The software can be adapted to a range of other applications including drug identification.

The poster presented at the event is available here.




Mass Spec Analytical Receives Additional Innovate UK Funding for Plasma Ion Source Research

UK Government Covid-19 Continuity Grant will sustain development momentum during pandemic

Mass Spec Analytical, the Bristol-based Mass Spectrometry Ion-Source Developer announced today that it has received additional funding from Innovate UK to pursue its Plasma Ion Source Development work. Mass Spec Analytical (MSA) received the award through the Analysis for Innovators Competition where the aim is to help companies overcome intractable product, manufacturing or process performance problems through advanced measurement and analytical technologies. MSA was awarded a further grant under the COVID-19: Continuity Grants initiative to provide additional support  to the project, ensuring that the challenges presented by the current pandemic and lock down of key facilities would have as little impact as possible.

MSA has developed a new type of low-temperature, direct analysis, ion source for mass spectrometry that relies on a Dielectric Barrier Discharge plasma to ionise the target substances directly from the surface being analysed. The initial work has demonstrated successful results for analytical research, security, and forensic market applications. MSA is an innovator in the design and manufacture of thermal ion sources the DBD plasma source is a next-generation development on the work already achieved.

“The Analysis for Innovators (A4I) programme has provided our business with access to experts and equipment in laboratories recognised worldwide for analysis and measurement” said Lance Hiley, MSA Managing Director.  “That is invaluable to a company like ours developing innovative products. Our project had just got underway when the Covid-19 Lockdown was announced, and our plans delayed. The Covid-19 Continuity Grant has provided us with additional funds to develop workarounds with our Innovate measurement partner and implement alternative approaches to the workplan. The structure of the grant also ensures that the additional funds will pay for a legacy in our business in the years to come.”

Analysing trace substances using mass spectrometry is the most reliable, future-proof method for a wide range of analytical chemistry research and development applications as well as finding direct application in the field of forensic investigations and public safety. The detection of drugs of abuse and explosives has been successfully demonstrated with earlier prototypes of this plasma ion source.


Waters Instruments and MSA Present a Targeted Method for Explosives Detection on a Prototype Thermal Desorption-QDa Instrument

In collaboration with Mass Spec Analytical (MSA) and initially with the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (dstl), and Surrey University, Waters investigated the possibility of using the Waters QDa single quadrupole mass spectrometer as a base for a specific explosives residue detector in conjunction with an MSA Thermal Ion Source.

Tests for explosive residues at transport locations (airports etc) are predominantly conducted using ion mobility instrumentation which can be limited for some compounds of interest. In collaboration with Mass Spec Analytical (MSA) and initially with the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (dstl), and Surrey University, Waters investigated the possibility of using the Waters QDa single quadrupole mass spectrometer as a base for a specific explosives residue detector in conjunction with an MSA Thermal Ion Source.

Presented as a poster at the 2019 British Mass Spectrometry Society annual meeting, Waters discussed the use of a prototype thermal desorption APCI source attached to a small single quadrupole mass spectrometer to investigate the response of a range of explosives. The poster reviews the challenges including:

  • An appropriate volatilisation process for the current sampling method
  • Determining a generic ionisation process
  • Sensitivity for all analytes at 1-10ng
  • Increased specificity through an appropriate method
  • Real-time acquisition/identification software

All the Ion Mobility instruments that currently dominate this market use a swabbing technique to sample luggage surfaces (or people’s hands) prior to the swab being heated in a thermal desorption unit to volatilise all compounds on the swab. The Waters-MSA prototype was tested against a range of target explosives including TNT, DNT, RDX, PETN, HMX, TATP and HMTD.

There are a significant number of potential variables that can affect the spectral information and sensitivity of the instrument. The data acquired on a prototype/proof of principle system has shown the possibility of a small mass spectrometer capable of the detection of explosive residues in the 1-10ng level. A new version 2 prototype is currently being produced (by Mass Spec Analytical) to increase sensitivity and reduce size. A single TD temperature also needs determining, as currently different analytes volatilised optimally at different temperatures.

The poster can be downloaded here


Mass Spec® and SCIEX® Share Fast Forensic Solutions

‘Ultra-Fast,’ ‘Rapid’ and ‘High-Throughput’ are some of the descriptions used to describe the latest forensic methods from the two companies.

In the world of Forensics, speed is not often a focal point. However, in many instances, forensic scientists are looking for rapid identification of substances requiring high sensitivity and specificity and quantitation falls to the background as a priority.

It is these sort of forensic applications that are highlighted in the latest tech notes from a recent collaboration between Mass Spec® and SCIEX® where the two companies looked at how the Mass Spec Analytical Thermal Extraction Ion Source (MSA TEIS) mated to a SCIEX 4500 triple quad QTRAP® System can be used for Direct Sample Analysis.

The work resulted in descriptions not normally seen in tech notes aimed at the forensic community:

Ultra-Fast Identification of Drugs of Abuse describes a rapid and robust analytical method to detect a variety of analytes associated with illicit drugs.  The method exhibits the sensitivity and selectivity expected from a MS-based screening technology providing both MS and MS/MS information; an ideal tool for high confidence identification.

Switching to a security-threat focus, High-Throughput Screening of Explosive Residues looks at how confident identification explosive residues cannot be achieved solely by measuring collisional cross section. In this technical note, an MSA TEIS, coupled with a SCIEX QTRAP 4500 System is shown to accurately identify explosive residues without the need for chromatography. The combined system is shown to produce rapid and confident compound identification suitable for rapid security screening.

A separate tech note, Direct Sample Analysis Using a Thermal Extraction Ionization Source (TEIS) Combined with Mass Spectrometry, discusses the technical details of how the MSA TEIS works with the SCIEX 4500 Instrument.

These three new tech notes compliment the previous note that examined how the MSA TEIS can be used for quantitation.


Explosives and Contraband Vapour Detection for Cargo Screening

Sometimes conventional vision-based systems like x-ray cannot penetrate inside containers that have densely-packed cargo or items that cannot be identified. Vapour trace detection systems will compliment x-ray to provide more robust cargo inspection without slowing down the handling process.

We recently presented a webinar on Explosives and Contraband Vapour Detection for Cargo Screening with Sciex. We've been developing a trace detection vapour testing system along with several government agencies for several years now. Trace detection equipment can be used in both the lab and in the field to detect explosives and other substances of forensic interest. To allow for rapid analyses, we utilise thermal desorption APCI resulting in high performance and low limits of detection.

In this webinar, we show how the Thermal Extraction Ion Source (TEIS) coupled with a SCIEX Mass Spectrometer delivers rapid identification with the required sensitivity and specificity demanded by security and forensic organisations.  

If you missed the original airing, the recording is now available online.

The webinar will show you how to:

Gain an understanding of how explosives and contraband vapour traces can be extracted and accurately detected in seconds without sample preparation.

See how explosives and contraband vapours can be analysed in a non-chromatographic workflow.

Discover how this single approach can be applied to particulate, swabbed and vapour samples.


SCIEX features Thermal Desorption for Fast Detection

Mass Spec Analytical Scientific Director Richard Sleeman is interviewed by SCIEX to learn more about fast trace detection using Thermal Desorption

Fast and accurate drug trace analysis and explosives detection is essential to law enforcement and security agencies. In a recent interview for SCIEX Vision Magazine, Mass Spec Analytical Scientific Director Richard Sleeman explains why Thermal Desorption is helping our customers gather results in seconds rather than hours. 

You can download a reprint of the article here.


Low Temperature Dielectric Barrier Discharge Ionisation Source for Mass Spectrometry presented at BMSS Event

Research conducted by Liverpool University PhD student Carl Fletcher and Mass Spec Analytical demonstrates Explosives Detection with a Low Temperature Dielectric Barrier Discharge Ionisation Source for Mass Spectrometry

University of Liverpool Student Carl Fletcher and Mass Spec Analytical presented a Poster and summary presentation at the British Mass Spectrometry Society Ambient Ionisation Special Interest Group Meeting covering recently published research into using a Low Temperature Dielectric Barrier Discharge Ionisation Source for explosive detection.

The increasing threat from Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) requires an enhancement in our detection and screening capabilities. Current analytical security screening methods in public places traditionally rely on the combination of thermal desorption (TD) with ion mobility for the detection of illicit substances and explosive residues. Ambient ionisation methods such as DART and DESI are commercially available, but they both require either sample preparation, discharge and operate with quite a small surface area. It was decided that a plasma based ambient ionisation technique would be developed that operated in ambient air, with no solvents and with a much larger sampling surface area.  

The poster and the paper that accompanies it examines a dielectric barrier discharge (DBD) low temperature plasma ion source with great potential for the detection of explosives in real-world applications. Thermally labile compounds may be detected at the same time as more stable compounds, eliminating the need to have different desorption temperature settings for different explosives groups. Four explosive types have been successfully detected using various mass spectrometers with reasonable detection limits, RDX (100 pg), PETN (100 pg), HMTD (1 ng) and TNT (5 ng). The DBD is a TRL-5 prototype that does not require any discharge gases, solvents, adduct forming reagents or chromatography thus, massively reducing sample preparation, consumable cost and analysis time whilst operating with a surface area of more than 500 mm2.

This is a collaboration between Mass Spec Analytical Ltd and the University of Liverpool. 


Novel Dielectric Barrier Discharge Explosive Detection Research Published

A cooperation between the University of Liverpool and Mass Spec Analytical examines how using a DBD ionisation source for mass spectrometry can quickly detect explosives from a wide range of surfaces

Carl Fletcher, a University of Liverpool Student, working with Mass Spec Analytical scientists and developers, have published a paper examining explosive detection using a novel dielectric barrier discharge ionisation source for mass spectrometry. 

The detection of explosives is of great importance, as is the need for sensitive, reliable techniques that require little or no sample preparation and short run times for high throughput analysis. In this work, a novel ionisation source is presented based on a dielectric barrier discharge (DBD). This not only affects desorption and ionisation but also forms an ionic wind, providing mass transportation of ions towards the mass spectrometer. Furthermore, the design incorporates 2 asymmetric alumina sheets, each containing 3 DBDs, so that a large surface area can be analysed.

The DBD operates in ambient air, overcoming the limitation of other plasma-based techniques which typically analyse smaller surface areas and require solvents or gases. A range of explosives across 4 different functional groups was analysed using the DBD with low limits of detection for cyclotrimethylene trinitramine (RDX) (100 pg), pentaerythritol trinitrate (PETN) (100 pg), hexamethylene triperoxide diamide (HMTD) (1 ng), and trinitrotoluene (TNT) (5 ng).

Detection was achieved without any sample preparation or the addition of reagents to facilitate adduct formation.

More information regarding the publication can be found here.

Although the focus on this research is explosives detection, the DBD ion source shows great potential in other research and application areas.

This project is a collaboration between the University of Liverpool (PhD funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, EPSRC) AND Mass Spec Analytical Ltd., and is funded under the Innovative Research Call 2016 for Explosives and Weapons Detection. This is a Cross-Government programme sponsored by a number of Departments and Agencies under the UK Governments CONTEST strategy in partnership with the US Department of Homeland Security, Science and Technology Directorate. 


Mass Spec to Present at IRC Showcase

The Innovative Research Call (IRC) for Explosives and Weapons Detection funded £3 million of innovative research projects to meet requirements for improved security and counter-terrorism.

Mass Spec Analytical will be presenting its IRC project Mobile QTOF trace detector with Low Temperature Plasma Ion Source at the THE INNOVATIVE RESEARCH CALL Funding Talks Programme – part of the UK Security Expo Exhibition and Conference held the 29th and 30th of November 2017.

This initiative was jointly funded by both UK Government and the United States of America Department for Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate. Projects were awarded funding to support the development of supplier’s original ideas or adaptations of existing approaches from other sectors. Each project met the challenge of detecting explosives and weapons in one or more of the following scenarios: buildings and areas; goods; people and/or their possessions; and vehicles.

The IRC 2013 call has now concluded with a number of successful prototypes developed.

We are presenting the outcomes of our project in the form of a poster and will be answering questions about how our findings can be further developed.




Sciex and Mass Spec Analytical Present High Resolution QTOF and SWATH Poster at BMSS Annual Meeting

Traditional security screening techniques can report erroneous responses when based solely upon collisional cross section measurements or differential mobility. A Sciex X500R QTOF coupled with a Mass Spec TEIS-3200 Ion source running SWATH software presents an alternative approach.

Sciex and Mass Spec have successfully integrated the X500R QTOF mass spectrometer with the TEIS-3200 ion source. As part of the test and validation process, the combination of a heated block based thermal desorption (TD) corona discharge ionization (CDI) source with an accurate mass Q-TOF mass spectrometer was tested for the analysis of dried explosive residues obtained from the swab of a surface. Traditional security screening techniques can report erroneous responses when based solely upon collisional cross section measurements or differential mobility.

In a poster that was presented at the BMSS Annual meeting in Manchester, September 2017, The potential application of a SWATH MS/MSALL acquisition for the direct analysis of dried explosive residues was reported.

Using nano-gram levels of known explosives spiked onto a flat surface that are presented to the ionisation source, both precursor and production ion information was generated in under 10 seconds. The SWATH MS/MSALL approach enables the analysis of accurate mass precursor ions enabling elemental composition and isotope pattern predictions and product ion data that are subsequently matched to MS/MS based libraries for enhanced identification confidence.


Mass Spec Demonstrates 100% Participant Screening at UK Security Expo

New Scentinel X500R can screen event-goers for all known explosives in seconds

Mass Spec Analytical demonstrated the Scentinel X500R as part of the Crowded Places Demonstrator at the UK Security Expo held at Olympia, London, November 30 – 1 December 2016. Designed for field and temporary deployments, Scentinel is a versatile trace detection system configured at the exhibition to demonstrate scanning 100% of admission tickets for explosives or other chemicals as part of the Crowded Places Demonstrator.

Detecting explosives or other chemical threats is a tremendous challenge for security personnel not wanting to disrupt the experience for the visiting public.  The Scentinel X500R addresses this challenge using a compact, portable system that is highly reliable and rigorous in its ability to detect explosive and other chemical threats quickly and with very few false alarms. Used for many years by security forces to secure high-security VIP events, this new evolution of Scentinel – the X500R - adds further detection capabilities and quicker more convenient operation making it a powerful robust detection strategy for public events.  

Dr. Richard Sleeman, Mass Spec Analytical Scientific Director explains: “The forensically acceptable results obtained from Scentinel provide laboratory-grade absolute accuracy in the field meaning that the rates of false positive and false negative are near to zero. The system is easy to use, reliable, uses few or no consumables and is so fast, it’s practical to test high quantities of samples in a continuous flow; like you see at large events or airport security stations. It’s also future-proof because it can be easily programmed to identify new threats (i.e., new substances) as they are identified.”

Scentinel’s technology is based on Mass Spec Analytical’s 20-years of extensive and proven techniques of analysis, developed in their UKAS ISO 17025-accredited laboratory.



Mass Spec Analytical Announces TEIS-3200 Thermal Extraction Ion Source

New rapid screening device reduces workflow times by 30% compared to chromatographic methods

Mass Spec Analytical announced today that its new Thermal Extraction Ion Source for the Sciex API 3200™Triple Quad System is now shipping to customers. The Mass Spec TEIS-3200 is ideal for applications where the method requires a large quantity of sample measurements in a relatively short period of time or where automation is required. When coupled with Mass Spec Analytical’s analysis software, results can be provided in as little as 4 seconds.

The TEIS-3200 uses Mass Spec's patented Thermal Extraction sample introduction device: two heated nickel coated brass plates with a cavity between them. Ambient air is continuously drawn into this space and through a ceramic transfer line into the Atmospheric Pressure Chemical Ionisation (APCI) ion source.  Compounds amenable to thermal desorption, such as many pesticides, drugs and explosives, can be rapidly analysed in this way without the need for any sample pre-treatment, solvents or glassware. The approach of directly analysing materials by thermal desorption tandem mass spectrometry (TD-MSMS) has been successfully applied to the forensic analysis of drugs of abuse, the detection of explosives, and with reference to an increasing database of MS/MS spectra, could help to identify an expanding suite of compounds.

Dr. Richard Sleeman, Mass Spec Analytical Scientific Director explains: “The TEIS-3200 is easy to use, reliable, uses few or no consumables and is very fast. The thermal system liberates samples from a large surface area, and so is ideal as a rapid screening method. Coupled with the specificity afforded by a Sciex API 3200™Triple Quad, the overall system is able to provide real-time results to a forensic standard.”

The Thermal Extraction Ion Source significantly speeds up workflow times by 30% or more for processes where GCMS is normally used for analysis. Much of the time saved is in the sample queue for analysis, which may be overnight, but there are other savings: no solvents, no glassware, no labelling of vials, no loading up the auto-sampler, no reconciling the queue with the sample list, no reconciling the results to the correct vial in the correct position, no GC columns, no special gases.  An added benefit is that the lab would be in a position to give virtually instantaneous results to their clients or colleagues once the analysis is complete.

The analytical system has been peer reviewed by academics and government agencies. Contact Mass Spec Analytical for further references and more information. The TEIS-3200 is available to order now.


For research use only. Not for use in diagnostic procedures.


Border Security with Accuracy, Reliability, and Reproducibility

Sciex Blog reports reviews a recent paper in the Journal of Forensic Science1, a comprehensive evaluation using Mass Spectrometry for the trace detection of 2,4,6-trinitrotoluene, C-4, Semtex-H, Datasheet, and HMTD.

The  global company, SCIEX, leaders in the liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry industry has recently written about the work reviewed in a recent paper from scientists working at the Canadian Border Security Agency (CBSA). They noted the importance of protecting a country’s border from the war on drugs and terror is a 24/7 task 366 days a year (2016 is a leap year).  Sciex noted that Mass Spectrometry is rapidly becoming the instrument of choice for border agencies throughout the world when it comes to explosive trace detection and forensic drug compounds.

The technology employed in this study was a SCIEX API 3200™ System Mass Spectrometer configured as a Mass Spec Scentinel system: a thermal desorption and atmospheric pressure chemical ionization (APCI) source  The unique feature of this technique is that it is a chromatography-free analytical solution. There is no need for intensive sample prep or LC gradient, the sample is introduced to the source and produces a response in a very short period. The findings of this evaluation concluded that,“The direct analysis by mass spectrometry using the Scentinel transformed the traditional day-long quantification analysis of solvent extraction chromatography to minutes, eliminated sample loss, and allowed the transfer efficiency to be quantified for every test surface used.”

The Canadian Border Service Agency (CBSA) requirement for testing explosives detectors is just one such application that could be carried out using this configuration. 

Contact Mass Spec Analytical on  +44(0)117 428 5787