National Physical Laboratory

Mass spectrometry for surface and interface analysis

Mass spectrometry

The chemistry at surfaces and interfaces is critical to many innovations such as drug delivery systems, diagnostic devices, medical devices, organic semiconductors and personal care products.

NPL is developing novel methods to characterise these complex systems using cluster ion beams and atmospheric mass spectrometries, as well as advanced data simplification and interpretation methods.


  • Desorption Electrospray Ionisation Mass Spectrometry uses mass spectrometry to analyse ions desorbed from a surface by an electrospray, under ambient conditions.
  • Sputtering is the basis of Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry (SIMS) and is used by other surface analytical methods such as Auger Electron Spectroscopy (AES).
  • The use of Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry (SIMS) is supported by a robust measurement infrastructure.
  • G-SIMS ('Gentle' Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry) was developed at NPL for the identification of organics and complex molecules at surfaces.
  • Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry (SIMS) is a powerful technique capable of generating surface spectra, images and depth profiles
  • A recent development in Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry (SIMS) and X-ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy (XPS) is the use of cluster ion beams for organic depth profiling


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