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Bringing Push-Button Mass Detection to Chromatography
Industry Insight

Bringing Push-Button Mass Detection to Chromatography

Bringing Push-Button Mass Detection to Chromatography
Industry Insight

Bringing Push-Button Mass Detection to Chromatography


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This week saw Waters introduce the ACQUITY  QDa™ Detector, the first mass detector to bring high-quality, mass spectral data to chromatographic separations. 

We used the opportunity to speak with Howard Read, Senior Product Manager for the ACQUITY QDa Detector to understand more about the product, its applications and benefits. 

AB: How does the Waters® ACQUITY QDa™ Detector differ to having a mass spectrometer?Howard Read (HR): The customers have said that the barriers to adoption mass spectrometers relate to:

a. the sample-specific optimization required for mass spectrometers such they cannot be used in a routine separations lab
b. the complexity of the mass spectrometer that requires an expert to use and manage it
c. the size that not only occupies bench and floor space but also gives a perception of complexity
d. the cost - capital, training, running

The ACQUITY QDa Detector was designed as a synergistic component of a separations system for use by analytical chemists who need mass spectral information. 

Robust and reliable, the ACQUITY QDa Detector requires no sample-specific optimization while providing the high-quality mass spectral information that they need to make informed decisions.

With the familiarity of an optical detector, the ACQUITY QDa Detector is intuitive and integrates seamlessly into their workflows. Pre-optimized and automated innovations eliminate the need for an expert to manage the ACQUITY QDa Detector while providing high quality mass spectral data from sample to sample, user to user and system to system. 

The size and industrial design of an optical detector, the ACQUITY QDa Detector is compact, integrated and quiet - and may be included as part of the system stack, minimizing bench space and eliminating floor space for a backing pump and so also removing the perception of complexity.

With minimized training and maintenance requirements, the ACQUITY QDa Detector is also affordable, at around a little over twice the price of a PDA.

AB: What benefits were customers looking for and how were you able to meet their needs?
HR: The customers were looking for mass spectral data for enhanced separation characterization and hence more informed decision making - without the complexity of a mass spectrometer. To address this, the ACQUITY QDa Detector was developed from the ground up, so as to be complementary to and compatible with optical detection, to be intuitive to users familiar with PDA, to meet expectations of analytical chemists in terms of robustness, reliability and repeatability of a PDA and to be easy to adopt and keep running. To achieve this took Waters' 30 years continuous innovation in mass spectrometry and 37 new patents and patents pending.

Designed to look and feel like a PDA, the ACQUITY QDa Detector can be switched on and off like a PDA - with startup times rivaling a PDA, unlike a mass spectrometer. With a novel single piece zero-adjustment probe capillary, the resolution of the chromatographic separation is best preserved while offering robustness and usability. The pre-optimized electrospray ionization source, with fast positive/negative ion switching, enhances compound coverage without user adjustment. The innovative disposable yet robust sample aperture eliminates the variability and much of the routine maintenance of mass spectrometers. Automated mass calibration and resolution control assure the high quality of the mass spectral information without any user action. Innovative dual-orthoganal off-axis ion optics ensure robust, clean operation. Automated control and diagnostics maintain detector performance and protect the detector in the event of adverse conditions. Full integration into Empower 2, Empower 3 and MassLynx 4.1 and with PDA-like method editing, the ACQUITY QDa Detector may be readily networked, including in a regulated  environment and moved from system to system as projects demand. Processing of data together with PDA data in Empower 3 FR2 streamlines workflows while making information-rich mass spectral data usable by analytical chemists. With minimized resource requirements over a PDA, including running on 110-240 Vac 50/60 Hz, the power consumption and air conditioning requirements are also minimized compared with a mass spectrometer. 

AB: What key application areas is the ACQUITY QDa™ Detector targeted?
HR: The ACQUITY QDa Detector has been developed to meet the needs of analytical scientists and deliver business benefits in chromatographic method development (to track peaks, highlight coelutions and see more peaks), sample profiling (including confirmation of identity and quantification of compounds, often at lower levels and/or in more complex matrices), synthetic chemistry (for reaction intermediate and product confirmation) and purification (for targeted compound isolation).

AB: During your press launch we heard that the detector is targeted at key applications for single quad mass spectrometry, how do the performance and price compare?
HR: While method development, sample profiling, synthetic chemistry and purification are targeted by single quadrupole mass spectrometry, single quadrupole mass spectrometry has only routine adoption in synthetic chemistry. Even there, the scalability of the open access deployment model is limited by the overhead of the single quadrupole mass spectrometer and fails to meet the needs of business today. For the other applications, the benefits of single quadrupole mass spectrometers have not been significantly realised because they cannot be adopted for routine use in these labs. Just making single quadrupole mass spectrometers cheaper or even higher performing does not address the needs of these labs. The usability, as demanded by users and detailed in 1 and 2, must be addressed in full. Nevertheless, the ACQUITY QDA Detector outperforms its size while costing a little more than twice a PDA. 

AB: Do you see early adopters as being current mass spec users or do you expect to see uptake in labs that do not currently use mass spec?
HR: Adopters already include both current mass spectrometer users seeking to expand their capabilities with minimum management overhead but especially, labs that had wanted mass spectral information but could not previously adopt mass spectrometers.

AB: Does the ACQUITY QDa™ Detector work with all Waters chromatography systems and is it compatible with other vendors instruments?
HR: The ACQUITY QDa Detector is compatible and supported with Waters analytical and prep separations systems including Alliance HPLC, ACQUITY UPLC, ACQUITY UPLC H-Class, ACQUITY UPLC I-Class, ACQUITY UPC2, LC Autopurification and SFC Investigator and Prep 100q systems on Empower 3, Empower 2 and MassLynx 4.1 software.  

The ACQUITY QDa Detector has been designed for optimum performance within a Waters chromatography system, and we will work with users of other vendors LC to help them evaluate the QDa Detector and understand those capabilities as part of a system. For those on Empower software we will look in the future at understanding where the QDa Detector may bring benefits to other LC systems. 

More details on the ACQUITY QDa™ Detector can be found by visiting the Waters website.

Howard Read 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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