Mass spectrometers are used to identify chemical substances but are bulky and expensive. Researchers at MIT have developed a miniaturized mass filter using 3D printing that is cheaper, lighter, and as precise as commercial filters that cost over $100,000. The 3D-printed filter is made from a durable glass-ceramic resin and is produced in one step, eliminating the need for assembly.

The researchers aim to use this technology to create a portable mass spectrometer that could be used for rapid analysis in remote areas, including rainforests and space. The miniaturized filter, known as a quadrupole, is designed for mass filtering using electric and magnetic fields to sort charged particles based on their mass-to-charge ratio, allowing for precise measurements of chemical components.

A new printable material called glass-ceramic resin can withstand high temperatures and performs well in a vacuum. The researchers used additive manufacturing to create a precise quadrupole with hyperbolic rods, a shape ideal for mass filtering. They also coated the rods with a thin metal film using electroless plating to make them electrically conductive.

Tests showed that their 3D-printed quadrupoles achieved higher resolutions and precision similar to that of commercial filters but are only one-quarter of the density, making them lighter and more suitable for portable spectrometers. The researchers plan to further improve the performance of the quadrupoles by making longer filters and exploring different ceramic materials. This work was funded by Empiriko Corporation.


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