COSAM News Articles 2022 February Mass spectrometers enhance COSAM’s mission for transformative research

Mass spectrometers enhance COSAM’s mission for transformative research

Published: 02/22/2022

By: Maria Gebhardt

Impactful Instrumentation: The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry has two new liquid chromatography mass spectrometers analyzing proteins and identifying molecules by their formulas.
Two mass spectrometers in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

“Auburn University invested in robust instrumentation that offers both high performance and strong confidence for precise sample identification,” said Doug Goodwin, chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

The university has used the Mission Enhancement Fund to purchase two new liquid chromatography mass spectrometers (LC-MS-MS). The high resolution orbitrap spectrometers allow researchers to confidently determine the chemical formula of the compounds in their samples. The purpose of the Mission Enhancement Fund is to provide Auburn units with the resources and leadership necessary to achieve their goals.

Close up of a mass spectrometer

The first LC-MS-MS instrument is protein-centric providing high quality and high sensitivity analysis of proteins. The samples  are separated and introduced directly into the mass spectrometer to prevent any loss of the material. The samples can be further broken down in the mass spectrometer to provide sequence information which aides protein identification.

Up close in the mass spectrometer

The second LC-MS-MS instrument identifies  small molecules by their formula and has the capability to break them down into smaller fragments to help with identification. This instrument uses larger columns, faster flow rates, and requires more sample. 

Both machines are housed in the Chemistry and Biochemistry building in the College of Sciences and Mathematics (COSAM).  

Inside a mass spectrometer

“Being able to add these state-of-the-art mass spectrometers to COSAM’s portfolio gives us the opportunity to conduct more in-depth transformative research,” said Mark Liles, acting associate dean of research and graduate studies.  

The instruments produce detailed chromatograms and spectra which are interpreted alone or with purchased Thermo Fisher software. 

Data from the mass spectrometer shown on a screen.

Anyone in the university can submit an online request for analysis on these instruments.

“We have departments within COSAM as well as other colleges within the university that request analysis,” said Melissa Boersma, director of chemical laboratories in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.  “We also analyze samples for other universities and companies who do not have this type of instrumentation.” 

The flexibility of the instruments allow for quantitative precision and accuracy while maintaining the resolution needed for confident results of complex samples.

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