Time-resolved mass-spectral characterization of ion formation from a low-frequency, low-temperature plasma probe ambient ionization source†
New-found interest in the development of ionization sources for mass spectrometry, inspired by the advent of ambient desorption/ionization mass spectrometry, has led to a resurgence in plasma-source development and characterization. Dielectric-barrier discharges, particularly the low-temperature plasma (LTP) probe format, have been at the forefront of this field due to their low power consumption and relatively simple design. However, better fundamental understanding of this desorption/ionization source is needed to improve the analytical capabilities of such a device. Here, we use relatively fast (2.5 ms per spectrum) time-resolved mass spectrometry to characterize the temporal reagent-ion distribution from a low-frequency LTP probe. Different voltage waveforms were found to heavily influence the discharge properties and, consequently, ion production. Ion signals from short discharge pulses, ca. 40 μs, were found to be significantly broadened, ca. 10 ms, prior to extraction into the mass spectrometer. Additionally, higher frequencies of a sine-wave LTP produced the largest flux of reagent ions, which existed for most of the voltage waveforms. Finally, temporal signals for reagent and analyte ions were measured and related to specific ionization processes: proton transfer and charge transfer.