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Mass spectrometry imaging

We use cutting-edge technology to investigate the molecular basis of materials

The National Centre of Excellence in Mass Spectrometry Imaging (NiCE-MSI) aims to advance the development, understanding and application of the principal mass spectrometry imaging techniques

Mass spectrometry is a powerful tool for elemental, molecular and isotopic analysis which we use to amass huge amounts of detail about biological, materials and agricultural samples. In fact, the technique can be applied to all research fields. This helps us understand the make-up of cancer tumors, locate and quantify nuclear materials, and investigate advanced materials. It can be used to take a sample, separate each molecule that makes up that sample, and then provide the data that allow each of those molecules to be identified and quantified. We use mass spectrometry imaging (MSI) to uncover new spatially-resolved information about the molecular and isotopic composition of biological and inorganic materials in unprecedented detail.

NPL is developing world-leading mass spectrometry technologies and the standards for best practice that can be rolled out across the world. We are also developing and applying the latest machine learning techniques to visualise and interpret mass spectrometry data.

MSI is commonly used to investigate the response of drugs in the body, the composition of proteins, the distribution of trace and ultralight elements (e.g.: H, Li) in advanced materials. This is helping us reveal the relationship between genetics and metabolism in cancers through use of stable isotope tracers, the pharmacokinetics of drug formulations and informs the next generation of battery and advanced materials.

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Our research

Our research covers ambient mass spectrometry and secondary ion mass spectrometry, both of which include modelling and instrument development.

Ambient mass spectrometry

We are taking advantage of the minimal sample preparation required by this suite of techniques to analyse diverse materials, from cells to medical devices

Fundamentals and instrument development

We are advancing MSI by making our measurements more accurate and reproducible, increasing limits-of-detection with post-ionisation and improving instrumentation

High resolution mass spectrometry imaging

We are developing new MSI capabilities to explore problems in the life and physical sciences down to 30 nm spatial resolution

Matrix-assisted laser desorption ionisation MSI

We use this sensitive, high-throughput technique to image the molecular makeup of tissues and reveal their response to disease and treatment

New applications for mass spectrometry

We are using cutting-edge highly-sensitive techniques to investigate the surface chemistry of samples

Secondary ion mass spectrometry

We are using cutting-edge highly-sensitive techniques to investigate the surface chemistry of samples


We are accurately mapping and measuring the chemical composition for metabolic profiling of biological samples.

Our services

We make measurement tools and methods more robust, comparable, sensitive, specific and accurate. We study biomolecules and their interactions, across all time and length scales. We identify future requirements for more precise and reliable measurements.

Case study

New subcellular imaging to support pharmaceutical innovation


Our resources

Whether you’re looking for good practice guidance, more information on our research, or our latest publications, we have made a broad range of resources freely available.


Our team

Our people are leaders in their fields. Take a look at our mass spectrometry imaging team.
View our team