Mass Spec Analytical at Future Space

July 27th 2020

"Every week at Future Space brings new ideas, ways of thinking, and opportunities."

Mass Spec Analytical joined Future Space in early 2020. We caught up with Managing Director, Lance Hiley, to find out more about what they're up to and how Future Space is an important part of their journey.

Tell us about Mass Spec Analytical

Mass Spec Analytical was founded in 1994 and has a long history developing bespoke mass spectrometry solutions for law enforcement agencies and forensic labs; We even owned and operated our own ISO-17025 forensics laboratory until the end of 2019 when we sold it and relaunched our ion source development business. We moved over to Future Space in March 2020 because we wanted to be surrounded by Innovation!  We specialise in the development of versatile direct-analysis ion sources for substance identification using mass spectrometry and we want to expand the applications that we can address. Future Space gives us the opportunity to connect with a wide variety of academics and organisations that can apply our technology in areas that we had not considered before.

Today, our Thermal Extraction Ion Sources (TEIS) provide near-instant results across a wide range of substances, media, and matrices with a minimum of sample prep – mostly without rare or expensive carrier gases. They are used by research and forensic laboratories as well as law enforcement agencies for the analysis of drugs, explosives, and other compounds of interest. We want to expand into health, environmental, food and industrial testing applications.

What are you working on now?

MSA has been developing a Plasma Ion Source for several years now and recently received additional funding from Innovate UK to further pursue this work. We were awarded an ‘Analysis for Innovators’ grant in February this year and then received a further grant under the ‘COVID-19: Continuity Grants’ programme that provided additional support to the project.  The UK Government is keen to ensure that the challenges presented by the current pandemic and lock down of key facilities would have as little impact as possible on our work.

MSA has developed a new type of low-temperature, direct analysis, ion source for mass spectrometry that relies on a Dielectric Barrier Discharge plasma to ionise the target substances directly from the surface being analysed. The initial work has demonstrated successful results for analytical research, security, and forensic market applications. MSA is an innovator in the design and manufacture of thermal ion sources; the DBD plasma source is a next-generation development on the work already achieved.

Why is this work important?

Analysing trace substances using mass spectrometry is the most reliable, future-proof, method for a wide range of analytical chemistry research and development applications as well as finding direct application in the field of forensic investigations and public safety. We have developed systems for the detection of drugs of abuse and explosives that ensure the safety of public places, aviation hubs and for producing forensic evidence used by courts of law. The research work we are doing now is to develop next-generation capabilities in these fields and new ones.

How has Future Space benefited your journey?

Every week at Future Space brings new ideas, ways of thinking, and opportunities. One of our aspirations is to get connected to a wider community of developers. Future Space has helped us meet engineers and scientists that we can collaborate with to develop products using advanced materials and design tools that enhance our own ideas. Its also a great place to meet people from different scientific disciplines that are interested in what we are developing. In a very short time, we find ourselves in discussions about Health Tech research opportunities and discussing manufacturing methods that could revolutionise how we build our products. We can already see how Future Space can open additional routes to funding and customers.

What does the future hold for MSA?

The mass spectrometry industry is growing rapidly and is projected to reach USD 10 Billion by 2026, exhibiting a CAGR of 7.8% from 2019 to 2026. Our objective is to create a high-value mass spectrometry accessory industry in Bristol that feeds into this growing global marketplace. Mass Spectrometers are becoming more accessible to a wider range of industrial and scientific applications. By making ion sources that produce accurate results easier to use, MSA can empower a new generation of mass spec users working in life sciences, environmental, chemistry, law enforcement and industrial applications.

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