Honors Gallery

Chemically etched emitters for nanoelectrospray ionization mass spectrometry

Award: Excellence in Technology Transfer

Year: 2012

Award Type:

Region: Far West

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL)

Electrospray ionization-mass spectrometry (ESI-MS) has become an invaluable tool for chemical and biological research due to its high sensitivity and straightforward online coupling with liquid-phase separations.

In 2005, researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) developed a process for creating nanoelectrospray emitters used in the ionization process of mass spectrometry. These emitters enabled greatly improved stability, reproducibility, and longevity.

In 2009, representatives from Michrom Bioresources, Inc., were eager to sell its new CaptiveSpray™ source to the mass spectrometry facility at PNNL and sent a demo unit. PNNL researchers were impressed upon evaluating the product but felt their emitter etching technology could improve it. Subsequently, a batch of etched emitters was sent to Michrom for testing at its facility and several customer sites.

Both Michrom and its customers were immediately pleased with the etched emitters’ sensitivity, stability, and consistency. The company approached PNNL about licensing the technology, and a nonexclusive license was executed in August 2010. In parallel, Michrom requested that PNNL manufacture an initial batch of emitters to rapidly enable new product introduction. However, as a national research laboratory, PNNL was not in a position to act as a contract manufacturer.

These emitters enabled greatly improved stability, reproducibility, and longevity.

PNNL researchers realized that the best way to assist Michrom and facilitate a technology transfer was to quickly help them become proficient in fabricating the etched emitters. Sending the primary inventor, Dr. Ryan Kelly, to Michrom’s Auburn, Calif., facility would be the most effective means to transfer critical knowledge to Michrom staff; however, a way to fund this needed to be found. Michrom applied for project funding through PNNL’s Technology Assistance Program (TAP); this was quickly approved, and the visit ensued. Within days of Dr. Kelly’s visit, Michrom staff had institutionalized the fabrication process.

In October 2010, Michrom began selling its new emitter tips. In February 2011, Michrom was acquired by a global scientific instrumentation company, Bruker Corporation. Th is acquisition should further expand the benefits of the emitter tip technology transfer to the mass spectrometry community.