Choosing the best possible ion source is a very important step in liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC/MS) method development. In a recent paper, ESI outcompetes other ion sources in LC-MS trace analysis Anal. Bioanal. Chem. 2019 Asko Laaniste from the UT Analytical chemistry group carried out a large scale survey of different LC/MS ion sources (and their different working modes) as applied to pesticide analysis. He compared electrospray ionisation (ESI) source, thermally focused/heated electrospray (HESI), atmospheric pressure photoionisation (APPI) source with and without dopant, and multimode source in ESI mode, atmospheric pressure chemical ionisation (APCI) mode, and combined mode using both ESI and APCI, i.e. altogether seven different ionisation modes for the analysis of 40 pesticides (see list below).
The lowest limits of detection (LoDs) were obtained by ESI and HESI. The widest linear ranges were observed with the conventional ESI source without heated nebulizer gas. ESI source was significantly less affected by matrix effect than the HESI source. APPI ranked second (after ESI) by not being influenced by matrix effect; therefore, it would be a good alternative to ESI if low LoDs are not required.
It was somewhat unexpected that ESI outperformed HESI. This may be caused by the instability of the additional heated gas (sheath gas) in HESI that is used in addition to the nebulising gas.
In conclusion, as a broad generalisation, Asko’s results show that although several new ion sources have been introduced during the last decade, the conventional ESI performs at least equally to these new ion sources in the case of polar to medium polarity pesticides. ESI with thermal focusing (HESI) performed more or less equally with ESI in terms of LoD. At the same time, HESI had significantly poorer intermediate precision of matrix effect values for most compounds. Thus, for trace analysis, ESI is still the ion source of choice.
(Full list of pesticides: pymetrozine, thiamethoxam, methiocarb-sulfoxide, chloridazon, imidacloprid, acetamiprid, methiocarb-sulfone, thiacloprid, imazalil, thiophanate-methyl, metribuzin, pyrimethanil, fenpropimorph, spiroxamine, propoxur, triasulfuron, bupirimate, paclobutrazol, methiocarb, azoxystrobin, epoxiconazole, myclobutanil, fenhexamid, fluquinconazole, flusilazole, mepanipyrim, bitertanol, propiconazole, triazophos, methoxychlor, ditalimfos, tebufenozide, benalaxyl, pyrazophos, buprofezin, indoxocarb, trifloxustrobin, quinoxyfen, pirimiphos-ethyl, hexythiazox)
(Image top left: Asko Laaniste preparing solutions; Image right: Comparison of accuracy of LC-MS analysis using different ion sources)