Miniaturized Mass Spectrometer

Technology Summary

Sandia's invention relates to a miniaturized mass spectrometer using a silicon chip field emitter array as the source of electrons for impact ionization of chemical species.


Sandia has developed an improved quadrupole mass spectrometer (QMS).  The improvement lies in the substitution of the conventional hot flament electron source with a cold cathode field emitter array (FEA), which in turn, allows the operations of a small QMS at much higher internal pressures then are currently achievable.  By eliminating the hot flament, problems such as the thermal "cracking of delicate analytes molecules, outgassing of a "hot" flament, high-power requirements, flament contamination by outgas species, and spurious electromagnetic fields are avoided altogether. In addition, the ability to produce FEAs using well-known and well-developed photolithographic techniques permits the building of a QMS that has multiple redundancies of the ionization source at very low additional cost.


  • Low cost compared to other types of mass spectrometers
  • Simple and reliable
  • Relatively high pressure

Applications and Industries

  • Real-time exhaust gas analysis for automotive applications
  • Leak detection, residual gas analysis
  • Thermal desorption mass spectroscopy
  • Molecular beam analysis
  • Environmental analysis for liquid and gas samples

Additional Information


Thomas E. Felter. (1999, Sept/Oct). "Cold cathode field emitter array on a quadrupole mass spectrometer: Route to miniaturization." Journal of Vacuum Science and Technology. [online].

Intellectual Property

ID Number
Patent Number
Miniature quadrupole mass spectrometer having a cold cathode ionization source 8174.1 6,452,167 09/17/2002
Method for analyzing the mass of a sample using a cold cathode ionization source mass filter 8174.2 6,633,041 10/14/2003
Technology IDSD#8174Development StageProposed - Sandia estimates this technology at approximately TRL 3. Active research and development is initiated and the concepts were demonstrated analytically or experimentally. AvailabilityAvailable - Various licensing and partnering options are available. Please contact the Intellectual Property Department to discuss.Published09/29/2011Last Updated01/23/2013