Thomson (unit)

Last updated
Unit of Mass-to-charge ratio
Named after J. J. Thomson

The thomson (symbol: Th) is a unit that has appeared infrequently in scientific literature relating to the field of mass spectrometry as a unit of mass-to-charge ratio. The unit was proposed by Cooks and Rockwood [1] naming it in honour of J. J. Thomson who measured the mass-to-charge ratio of electrons and ions.

Mass spectrometry analytical technique based on determining mass to charge ratio of ions

Mass spectrometry (MS) is an analytical technique that measures the mass-to-charge ratio of ions. The results are typically presented as a mass spectrum, a plot of intensity as a function of the mass-to-charge ratio. Mass spectrometry is used in many different fields and is applied to pure samples as well as complex mixtures.

Mass-to-charge ratio Physical quantity of interest in chemistry and electrodynamics

The mass-to-charge ratio (m/Q) is a physical quantity that is most widely used in the electrodynamics of charged particles, e.g. in electron optics and ion optics. It appears in the scientific fields of electron microscopy, cathode ray tubes, accelerator physics, nuclear physics, Auger electron spectroscopy, cosmology and mass spectrometry. The importance of the mass-to-charge ratio, according to classical electrodynamics, is that two particles with the same mass-to-charge ratio move in the same path in a vacuum, when subjected to the same electric and magnetic fields. Its SI units are kg/C. In rare occasions the thomson has been used as its unit in the field of mass spectrometry.

J. J. Thomson British physicist

Sir Joseph John Thomson was an English physicist and Nobel Laureate in Physics, credited with the discovery and identification of the electron, the first subatomic particle to be discovered.



The thomson is defined as [2]

where Da is the symbol for the unit dalton (also called the unified atomic mass unit, symbol u), and e is the elementary charge which is the unit of electric charge in the system of Hartree atomic units.

The elementary charge, usually denoted by e or sometimes qe, is the electric charge carried by a single proton or, equivalently, the magnitude of the electric charge carried by a single electron, which has charge −1 e. This elementary charge is a fundamental physical constant. To avoid confusion over its sign, e is sometimes called the elementary positive charge.

Electric charge Physical property that quantifies an objects interaction with electric fields

Electric charge is the physical property of matter that causes it to experience a force when placed in an electromagnetic field. There are two types of electric charge: positive and negative. Like charges repel and unlike attract. An object with an absence of net charge is referred to as neutral. Early knowledge of how charged substances interact is now called classical electrodynamics, and is still accurate for problems that do not require consideration of quantum effects.

The Hartree atomic units are a system of natural units of measurement which is especially convenient for atomic physics calculations. They are named after the physicist Douglas Hartree. In this system the numerical values of the following four fundamental physical constants are all unity by definition:

For example, the ion C7H72+ has a mass of 91 Da. Its charge number is +2, and hence its charge is 2e. The ion will be observed at 45.5 Th in a mass spectrum.

The thomson allows for negative values for negatively charged ions. For example, the benzoate anion would be observed at −121 Th since the charge is −e.


The thomson has been used by some mass spectrometrists, for example Alexander Makarov—the inventor of the Orbitrap—in a scientific poster, [3] and a 2015 presentation. [4] Other uses of the thomson include papers, [5] [6] and (notably) one book. [2] The journal Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry (in which the original article appeared) states that "the thomson (Th) may be used for such purposes as a unit of mass-to-charge ratio although it is not currently approved by IUPAP or IUPAC." [7] Even so, the term has been called "controversial" by RCM's former Editor-in Chief [8] (in a review the Hoffman text cited above [2] ). The book, Mass Spectrometry Desk Reference, argues against the use of the thomson. [9] However, the editor-in-chief of the Journal of the Mass Spectrometry Society of Japan has written an editorial in support of the thomson unit. [10]

Alexander Alexeyevich Makarov is a Russian physicist who led the team that developed the Orbitrap, a type of mass spectrometer, and received the 2008 American Society for Mass Spectrometry Distinguished Contribution in Mass Spectrometry Award for this development. In November 2013 he was appointed to Professor by Special Appointment of High Resolution Mass Spectrometry at the Department of Chemistry and the Bijvoet Center for Biomolecular Research of Utrecht University in the Netherlands.

Orbitrap Orbital electrostatic ion trap mass spectrometer

In mass spectrometry, Orbitrap is an ion trap mass analyzer consisting of an outer barrel-like electrode and a coaxial inner spindle-like electrode that traps ions in an orbital motion around the spindle. The image current from the trapped ions is detected and converted to a mass spectrum using the Fourier transform of the frequency signal.

<i>Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry</i> peer-reviewed scientific journal

Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry (RCM) is a biweekly peer-reviewed scientific journal published since 1987 by John Wiley & Sons. It covers research on all aspects of mass spectrometry. According to the Journal Citation Reports, the journal has a 2014 impact factor of 2.253.

The thomson is not an SI unit, nor has it been defined by IUPAC.

Since 2013, the thomson is deprecated by IUPAC (Definitions of Terms Relating to Mass Spectrometry). [11] [12] Since 2014, Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry regards the thomson as a "term that should be avoided in mass spectrometry publications". [13]

Related Research Articles

Ion source Device that creates charged atoms and molecules (ions)

An ion source is a device that creates atomic and molecular ions. Ion sources are used to form ions for mass spectrometers, optical emission spectrometers, particle accelerators, ion implanters and ion engines.

Mass spectrum Tool in chemical analysis

A mass spectrum is an intensity vs. m/z (mass-to-charge ratio) plot representing a chemical analysis. Hence, the mass spectrum of a sample is a pattern representing the distribution of ions by mass (more correctly: mass-to-charge ratio) in a sample. It is a histogram usually acquired using an instrument called a mass spectrometer. Not all mass spectra of a given substance are the same. For example, some mass spectrometers break the analyte molecules into fragments; others observe the intact molecular masses with little fragmentation. A mass spectrum can represent many different types of information based on the type of mass spectrometer and the specific experiment applied; however, all plots of intensity vs. mass-to-charge are referred to as mass spectra. Common fragmentation processes for organic molecules are the McLafferty rearrangement and alpha cleavage. Straight chain alkanes and alkyl groups produce a typical series of peaks: 29 (CH3CH2+), 43 (CH3CH2CH2+), 57 (CH3CH2CH2CH2+), 71 (CH3CH2CH2CH2CH2+) etc.

Secondary ion mass spectrometry surface chemical analysis and imaging method

Secondary-ion mass spectrometry (SIMS) is a technique used to analyze the composition of solid surfaces and thin films by sputtering the surface of the specimen with a focused primary ion beam and collecting and analyzing ejected secondary ions. The mass/charge ratios of these secondary ions are measured with a mass spectrometer to determine the elemental, isotopic, or molecular composition of the surface to a depth of 1 to 2 nm. Due to the large variation in ionization probabilities among different materials, SIMS is generally considered to be a qualitative technique, although quantitation is possible with the use of standards. SIMS is the most sensitive surface analysis technique, with elemental detection limits ranging from parts per million to parts per billion.

Tandem mass spectrometry

Tandem mass spectrometry, also known as MS/MS or MS2, is a technique in instrumental analysis where two or more mass spectrometers are coupled together using an additional reaction step to increase their abilities to analyse chemical samples. A common use of tandem-MS is the analysis of biomolecules, such as proteins and peptides.

Matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization

In mass spectrometry, matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization (MALDI) is an ionization technique that uses a laser energy absorbing matrix to create ions from large molecules with minimal fragmentation. It has been applied to the analysis of biomolecules and large organic molecules, which tend to be fragile and fragment when ionized by more conventional ionization methods. It is similar in character to electrospray ionization (ESI) in that both techniques are relatively soft ways of obtaining ions of large molecules in the gas phase, though MALDI typically produces far fewer multi-charged ions.

History of mass spectrometry

The history of mass spectrometry has its roots in physical and chemical studies regarding the nature of matter. The study of gas discharges in the mid 19th century led to the discovery of anode and cathode rays, which turned out to be positive ions and electrons. Improved capabilities in the separation of these positive ions enabled the discovery of stable isotopes of the elements. The first such discovery was with the element neon, which was shown by mass spectrometry to have at least two stable isotopes: 20Ne and 22Ne. Mass spectrometers were used in the Manhattan Project for the separation of isotopes of uranium necessary to create the atomic bomb.

Electron-transfer dissociation

Electron-transfer dissociation (ETD) is a method of fragmenting multiply-charged gaseous macromolecules in a mass spectrometer between the stages of tandem mass spectrometry (MS/MS). Similar to electron-capture dissociation, ETD induces fragmentation of large, multiply-charged cations by transferring electrons to them. ETD is used extensively with polymers and biological molecules such as proteins and peptides for sequence analysis. Transferring an electron causes peptide backbone cleavage into c- and z-ions while leaving labile post translational modifications (PTM) intact. The technique only works well for higher charge state peptide or polymer ions (z>2). However, relative to collision-induced dissociation (CID), ETD is advantageous for the fragmentation of longer peptides or even entire proteins. This makes the technique important for top-down proteomics.The method was developed by Hunt and coworkers at the University of Virginia.

Mass (mass spectrometry) Physical quantities being measured

The mass recorded by a mass spectrometer can refer to different physical quantities depending on the characteristics of the instrument and the manner in which the mass spectrum is displayed.

Time-of-flight mass spectrometry (TOFMS) is a method of mass spectrometry in which an ion's mass-to-charge ratio is determined via a time of flight measurement. Ions are accelerated by an electric field of known strength. This acceleration results in an ion having the same kinetic energy as any other ion that has the same charge. The velocity of the ion depends on the mass-to-charge ratio. The time that it subsequently takes for the ion to reach a detector at a known distance is measured. This time will depend on the velocity of the ion, and therefore is a measure of its mass-to-charge ratio. From this ratio and known experimental parameters, one can identify the ion.

Laser spray ionization

Laser spray ionization refers to one of several methods for creating ions using a laser interacting with a spray of neutral particles or ablating material to create a plume of charged particles. The ions thus formed can be separated by m/z with mass spectrometry. Laser spray is one of several ion sources that can be coupled with liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry for the detection of larger molecules.

Desorption atmospheric pressure photoionization

Desorption atmospheric pressure photoionization (DAPPI) is an ambient ionization technique for mass spectrometry that uses hot solvent vapor for desorption in conjunction with photoionization. Ambient Ionization techniques allow for direct analysis of samples without pretreatment. The direct analysis technique, such as DAPPI, eliminates the extraction steps seen in most nontraditional samples. DAPPI can be used to analyze bulkier samples, such as, tablets, powders, resins, plants, and tissues. The first step of this technique utilizes a jet of hot solvent vapor. The hot jet thermally desorbs the sample from a surface. The vaporized sample is then ionized by the vacuum ultraviolet light and consequently sampled into a mass spectrometer. DAPPI can detect a range of both polar and non-polar compounds, but is most sensitive when analyzing neutral or non-polar compounds. This technique also offers a selective and soft ionization for highly conjugated compounds.

Ambient ionization

Ambient ionization is a form of ionization in which ions are formed in an ion source outside the mass spectrometer without sample preparation or separation. Ions can be formed by extraction into charged electrospray droplets, thermally desorbed and ionized by chemical ionization, or laser desorbed or ablated and post-ionized before they enter the mass spectrometer.

Hybrid mass spectrometer

A hybrid mass spectrometer is a device for tandem mass spectrometry that consists of a combination of two or more m/z separation devices of different types.

In mass spectrometry, resolution is a measure of the ability to distinguish two peaks of slightly different mass-to-charge ratios ΔM, in a mass spectrum.

The Kendrick mass is defined by setting the mass of a chosen molecular fragment, typically CH2, to an integer value in atomic mass units. It is different from the IUPAC definition, which is based on setting the mass of 12C isotope to exactly 12 u. The Kendrick mass is often used to identify homologous compounds differing only by a number of base units in high resolution mass spectra. This definition of mass was first suggested in 1963 by chemist Edward Kendrick, and it has been adopted by scientists working in the area of high-resolution mass spectrometry, environmental analysis, proteomics, petroleomics, metabolomics, polymer analysis, etc.

Collision-induced dissociation

Collision-induced dissociation (CID), also known as collisionally activated dissociation (CAD), is a mass spectrometry technique to induce fragmentation of selected ions in the gas phase. The selected ions are usually accelerated by applying an electrical potential to increase the ion kinetic energy and then allowed to collide with neutral molecules. In the collision some of the kinetic energy is converted into internal energy which results in bond breakage and the fragmentation of the molecular ion into smaller fragments. These fragment ions can then be analyzed by tandem mass spectrometry.


  1. Cooks, R. G.; A. L. Rockwood (1991). "The 'Thomson'. A suggested unit for mass spectroscopists". Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry . 5 (2): 93.
  2. 1 2 3 Stroobant, Vincent; Hoffmann, Edmond de; Charette, Jean Joseph (1996). Mass spectrometry: principles and applications. New York: Wiley. ISBN   978-0-471-96696-8.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  3. The Orbitrap: a novel high-performance electrostatic trap (ASMS)
  4. Orbitrap Instrumentation: The First Decade and Beyond on YouTube
  5. Pakenham G, Lango J, Buonarati M, Morin D, Buckpitt A (2002). "Urinary naphthalene mercapturates as biomarkers of exposure and stereoselectivity of naphthalene epoxidation". Drug Metab. Dispos. 30 (3): 247–53. doi:10.1124/dmd.30.3.247. PMID   11854141.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  6. Mengel-Jørgensen J, Kirpekar F (2002). "Detection of pseudouridine and other modifications in tRNA by cyanoethylation and MALDI mass spectrometry". Nucleic Acids Res. 30 (23): 135e–135. doi:10.1093/nar/gnf135. PMC   137990 . PMID   12466567.
  7. "Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry Instructions to Authors". Wiley Interscience. Retrieved 2007-12-03.[ dead link ]
  8. Boyd, Robert K. (4 December 1998). "Book Review: Mass Spectrometry: Principles and Applications. E. de Hoffman, J. Charette and W. Stroobant. Wiley, Chichester 1996. ISBN 0-471-96697-5". Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry. 11 (8): 948. doi:10.1002/(SICI)1097-0231(199705)11:8<948::AID-RCM2033>3.0.CO;2-I.
  9. Sparkman, O. David (2000). Mass spectrometry desk reference. Pittsburgh: Global View Pub. ISBN   978-0-9660813-2-9.
  10. Yoshino, Ken-Ichi (2007). "Comments on Abscissa Labeling of Mass Spectra". Journal of the Mass Spectrometry Society of Japan. 55 (1): 51–61. doi:10.5702/massspec.55.51. Archived from the original on 2011-08-14. Retrieved 2007-12-05.
  11. Murray, Kermit K.; Boyd, Robert K.; Eberlin, Marcos N.; Langley, G. John; Li, Liang; Naito, Yasuhide (2013). "Definitions of terms relating to mass spectrometry (IUPAC Recommendations 2013)". Pure and Applied Chemistry. 85 (7): 1515–1609. doi:10.1351/PAC-REC-06-04-06.
  13. Volmer, Dietrich A. (2014). "Terms and acronyms that should be avoided in mass spectrometry publications". Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry. 28 (17): 1853–1854. doi:10.1002/rcm.6979. PMID   25088128.