Mechanical resonators realized on the nano-scale by now offer applications in mass-sensing of biomolecules with extraordinary sensitivity. The general idea is that perfect mechanical biosensors should be of extremely small size to achieve zeptogram sensitivity in weighing single molecules similar to a balance. However, the small scale and long response time of weighing biomolecules with a cantilever restrict their usefulness as a high-throughput method. Commercial mass spectrometry (MS) such as electro-spray ionization (ESI)-MS and matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization (MALDI)-time of flight (TOF)-MS are the gold standards to which nanomechanical resonators have to live up to. These two methods rely on the ionization and acceleration of biomolecules and the following ion detection after a mass selection step, such as time-of-flight (TOF). Hence, the spectrum is typically represented in m/z, i.e. the mass to ionization charge ratio. Here, we describe the feasibility and mass range of detection of a new mechanical approach for ion detection in time-of-flight mass spectrometry, the principle of which is that the impinging ion packets excite mechanical oscillations in a silicon nitride nanomembrane. These mechanical oscillations are henceforth detected via field emission of electrons from the nanomembrane. Ion detection is demonstrated in MALDI-TOF analysis over a broad range with angiotensin, bovine serum albumin (BSA), and an equimolar protein mixture of insulin, BSA, and immunoglobulin G (IgG). We find an unprecedented mass range of operation of the nanomembrane detector.
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