A History of European Mass Spectrometry

Reviewed by Steve Down
Nottingham, UK

Editor: Keith R. Jennings
Published by: IM Publications LLP 2012
viii + 285 pp
ISBN 978-1-906715-04-5

History-of-MS-280Mass spectrometry continues to expand at a frantic rate and it is easy for the older practitioners amongst us to forget the origins of the technique and the sometimes tortuous path that was taken to reach where we are today. As for newcomers to the technique, a good grounding in the history of mass spectrometry will not go amiss and will help you to realise how far it has come and to appreciate the relative ease with which you can conduct experiments today.

This book will go a long way to achieve those aims. As its title suggests, it looks back at the history and development of mass spectrometry within Europe, which might be considered contentious by some. Without wishing to engage in a transatlantic spat, mass spectrometry originated in Europe, more specifically in the UK, but it goes without saying that contributions from other continents in later years have been central to the advancement of the technique. Fortunately, the contributors to this book recognise that. For instance, the section on electrospray ionisation does not overlook the contribution from scientists in the US who were instrumental in bringing it to fruition. However, the premise behind the book does lead to some glaring omissions in content, such as Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometry (FT-ICR MS) which was developed in the USA.

The book’s eleven chapters cover an eclectic mix of topics, written by respected scientists who know their way around a mass spectrometer. Their recollections of their own experiences serve to lighten the book and make reading it a more pleasurable experience. They focus on the techniques as well as the geographic centres of excellence in Europe which made invaluable contributions to mass spectrometry. The level of content in all of the chapters is impressive and it is supplemented by many historical photographs of instruments and the people involved in their development, which is one of the enjoyable aspects of this book, bringing the history to light.

The first chapter by the editor, Keith Jennings, briefly examines the first 50 years in which mass spectrometry took a foothold in Europe. Chapter 2, written by Nico Nibbering, takes an in-depth look at the contributions of European mass spectrometrists to understanding the formation of ions and their fragmentation in the mass spectrometer. The next chapter features the development of GC/MS and LC/MS from a European perspective, with nods to the USA, recalled by Andries Bruins. The earlier techniques of continuous-flow fast atom bombardment (CF-FAB), thermospray ionisation and particle beam interfaces all receive deserved attention. In Chapter 4, we are taken on a journey from field desorption mass spectrometry to matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionisation mass spectrometry (MALDI MS) by Michael Karas who helped to develop MALDI MS, with reference to secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS), plasma desorption (PD) and FAB MS.

The fifth chapter is a fascinating and detailed account of the growth of mass spectrometry in Manchester by Bob Bateman, who was employed by various incarnations of instrument companies during much of this period. Another European mass spectrometry centre is Bremen, and it features in Chapter 6 as part of a tribute to Ludolf Jenckel who was initially employed in the MAT department at Atlas-Werke. Jochen Franzen recounts the role of Jenckel in the birth and growth of this start-up organisation through several guises, with reference to many personal communications by and about Jenckel.

Another notable German from the Bremen scene was Curt Brunnée, who is celebrated in a short chapter by Michael ten Noever de Brauw looking at the person more than the scientist, including his skills as a magician and a modeller. This approach might seem out of place in a book on the history of mass spectrometry but it is entertaining nonetheless.

The development and growth of mass spectrometry in Europe for analysing peptides and proteins is examined by Peter Roepstorff, including the important early contributions of PD and FAB mass spectrometry, which showed that proteins could be analysed without derivatisation and led to modern-day proteomics. Károly Vékey takes a look at the influence of central and eastern Europe on the use of mass spectrometry for analysing small molecules like natural products and pharmaceuticals. This chapter also includes a personal account from Mirek Ryska on setting up a private company for drug analysis and an elaborate description by Vékey on the use of mass spectrometry to identify a natural antibiotic in the 1980s.

Jim Scrivens takes us through the growth of industrial and environmental applications of mass spectrometry from an industrial point of view, touching on the career paths of several key players. It is notable how industrial problems drove the development of new instrumentation in areas such as pharmaceutical analysis and environmental studies.

The final chapter completes the unenviable task of recording the history of the various European national mass spectrometry groups and societies and the meetings that have been held over the years, described by Alison Ashcroft. It includes a brief section highlighting the mass spectrometry journals that have been set up in Europe and a personal account by Gunter Heyden describing how he set up Organic Mass Spectrometry, the first journal devoted to the subject.

A History of European Mass Spectrometry provides an important historical record of the birth and growth of the technique on that continent. But it is more than that. It is a fascinating journey punctuated by anecdotes, personal accounts and many photographs and I recommend it to anyone who has any interest in mass spectrometry.

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