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Simplifying Complex Mass Spectra
Industry Insight

Simplifying Complex Mass Spectra

Simplifying Complex Mass Spectra
Industry Insight

Simplifying Complex Mass Spectra


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Owlstone Ltd announced the commercial launch of its UltraFAIMS series of products at the 62nd ASMS Conference on Mass Spectrometry and Allied Topics.

Developed to enhance mass spectrometry by quickly simplifying complex mass spectra, separating isobaric ions and reducing background, UltraFAIMS is a miniaturized chip-based FAIMS (Field Asymmetric Ion Mobility Spectrometry) platform technology developed by Owlstone. 

To understand more about the company and the UltraFAIMS series of products we spoke to Billy Boyle, President (Operations) at Owlstone. 

AB: Can you tell me about Owlstone?

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Billy Boyle (BB): Founded in 2004 as a spin-out from Cambridge University, Owlstone is a chemical detection company, with a range of products based on its proprietary field asymmetric ion mobility spectrometry (FAIMS) chip. In addition to instrumentation for academic research, it also manufactures products for the oil and gas, food and beverage, medical, and defense sectors, and has worked with market leaders in these sectors including BP, Shell, Nestle, PepsiCo and Miller Coors. The underlying FAIMS technology has won a series of awards, culminating in a distinguished award in the Nokia Sensing XChallenge for medical technologies. To date, the company has raised over $20M of investment.

AB: The UltraFAIMS series of products was launched at the ASMS Conference, can you tell me more about this platform?

BB: The UltraFAIMS series of products is a range of low-cost FAIMS modules that can be retro-fitted onto mass spectrometers, to add FAIMS separation capabilities. FAIMS separates analytes according to the way in which their mobility changes as electric field strength increases. This separation is highly orthogonal to both mass spectrometry and liquid chromatography, and can be used to distinguish between isobaric compounds, simplify complex mass spectra and reduce chemical background.

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AB: What benefits does UltraFAIMS offer over current techniques?

BB: UltraFAIMS can in many cases replace the LC step in an LC-MS setup, significantly speeding up the analysis. Although other ion mobility-mass spectrometry systems are available, they require the purchase of a new mass spectrometer - UltraFAIMS can be easily added to an established laboratory setup. Miniaturizing the chip has also allowed Owlstone to generate much higher field strengths than have been available in FAIMS systems up to now. This means that a greater range of analytes can be separated, at faster speeds, without compromising the system sensitivity.

AB: Is the platform focused on specific applications?

BB: UltraFAIMS is a general purpose analytical system; applications being showcased at ASMS include separating isobaric analytes, protein and peptide charge states, large and small proteins, isomers, and conformers. 

AB: What instruments is the product range compatible with? Will you be looking to increase this?

BB: Currently, the product range includes:

• UltraFAIMS-A1, compatible with Agilent 6130/6150 (SQ), 6460 (QQQ), 6230 (TOF) and 6530/6540 (QTOF)

• UltraFAIMS-T1, compatible with Thermo Exactive Series & LTQ-Orbitrap

• UltraFAIMS-DK1 (developer kit), which is available for instrument developers or vendors who wish to interface with a mass spectrometer or source for which an off-the-shelf interface isn’t currently available.

We are looking to add the capability to interface with an even wider range of mass spectrometers as time goes on.

AB: What was the reaction to UltraFAIMS at ASMS?

BB: The system generated a great amount of interest over the course of the conference, with more and more people becoming aware of ion mobility as an additional analytical tool for mass spectrometry. Audience questions in the "Perspectives on the Future of Ion Mobility MS" panel discussion highlighted the demand for an effective, low-cost way of adding ion mobility capability to existing systems, which is exactly what UltraFAIMS provides.

Billy Boyle was speaking to Ashley Board, Managing Editor for Technology Networks. You can find Ashley on  and follow Technology Networks on Twitter.

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