The process by which ambient vapors are ionized upon interaction with electrosprays is not fully under-stood, compromising its optimization and widespread use. In this work we evaluated the different scales associated with the processes involved in secondary electrospray ionization (SESI) and developed a new numerical method that merges the analytical solution that describes the angle of aperture and the current of an ideal electrospray, with a finite element method that enables the evaluation of complex geometries.
The numerical method showed that, despite the low ionization efficiency (i.e. ion concentration/neutral vapor concentration ∼10-4), depletion of neutral vapors plays an important role. We used this method to optimize and design a low flow SESI source, which was coupled with a commercial high resolution/high mass accuracy mass spectrometer. The system was designed to be interfaced with virtually any pre-existing atmospheric pressure ionization mass spectrometer. The experimental validation for the detection of ambient vapors confirmed qualitatively the numerical predictions in terms of ionization efficiency as a function of sample flow rate. As a result of the optimization, this prototype showed a 5-fold sensitivity increase against standard SESI. This novel add-on is meant to upgrade mass spectrometers to analyze trace gases in real time by SESI technique.