Friday, July 12, 2013

MASS(spectrometry) DELIRIUM

What?: A method used to measure how much stuff, mass* (fig. 1), is in an object. Usually a scientific object like dirt or old things or blood or pharmaceuticals.

Figure 1. dat body and blood of cHr1$†
How??: Mass spectrometers are high tech, high powered pieces of equipment that need to accomplish three things to measure mass*.

  1. Ionize a sample - turn a piece of dirt into a flying, charged (+ or -) ion. This is usually accomplished by blasting the sample material, maybe a carbonate, with a high energy electron beam. The ridiculously high negative charge knocks off some other electrons, leaving behind the slightly-more-naked ion.
  2. Sort the ions - the beam of different ions of distinct masses and charges is accelerated through a corridor thanks to charged electrodes (+ attracts -, repels +). The corridor is curved and in turning the beam using a magnetic field, the turn radius is then inversely proportional to the mass of the ion. Big things turn a little, while small things turn a lot so that there are distinct beams made up of things of similar mass.
  3. Measure sorted ions -  answer the question, "how many things were in each of those beams of ions?" by putting a sensor at the end of that longer corridor. This sensor is kind of like the catcher in a game of baseball where the pitcher is one of those ion beams and there is no batter. The sensor measures voltages produced when each of the ions from each of the beams speeds at ~400m/s and smashes into it and throwing off a molecular ion to produce a voltage. Computers are attached through lots of wires to decide how many hits equals a calibrated mass. 

  4. BOOM. MASS.
Computers are magic.

*Mass is kind of like weight. Every thing has mass. While mass is an absolute measure of "stuff" in an object, weight is a measure based on the relative pull of gravity on said object. This means that when the force of gravity differs, weight will be different. So, when your 2/3rd-pounder pile of burger meats flies to Uranus, it will weigh 1/2lbs and when you (~187lb) apparate to the Sun, you'll weigh 5062.464lbs. 

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