Copyright 2007 Casa Software Ltd. ToF Mass Calibration

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1 ToF Mass Calibration Essentially, the relationship between the mass m of an ion and the time taken for the ion of a given charge to travel a fixed distance is quadratic in the flight time t. For an ideal system, the time-to-mass relationship is: 2 m = [( t t0 ) / b] where t 0 represents a time offset and b scales the time values appropriately. Since knowledge of these two parameters t 0 and b is sufficient to describe the relationship between the mass and time-of-flight, given two mass/time pairs the calibration parameters can be determined from a pair of simultaneous equations. In reality, assigning the mass/time coordinates from the time-binned spectra is not exact and therefore the time-to-mass calibration must be computed in a least-squares sense using multiple mass/time pairs. Further, the choice of mass/time pairs must be carefully made to ensure accuracy of the calibration for both interpolated and extrapolated mass regions. Those mass regions falling within (interpolation) the set of mass-time pairs used to create the calibration will be more accurate with respect to the time-to-mass calibration than those outside (extrapolation) the interval containing the mass/time pairs included in the least squares fit. It is therefore important to calibrate a spectrum using peaks over as wide a mass range as possible and check that peaks, once calibrated, can be sequentially assigned to nominal masses. The following describes the tools in CasaXPS for calibrating a spectrum of time-bins with respect to mass and how to assess the success of this procedure. Figure 1: When calibrating the mass scale, the primary objective is to assign each visible peak to a nominal mass. For some spectra and instruments, there may be perfectly good reasons why this objective may fail, but in general each peak in the data should be associated with a nominal mass; any mass defect from the nominal mass provides information about 1

2 the atomic or molecular ion responsible for the peak. It is not necessary nor is it always possible to attribute each peak to a known ion, however, when properly calibrated, if the observable peaks deviate from the sequence of nominal masses then the accuracy of the calibration may be in doubt. The problem of calibrating the mass scale reduces to identifying a set of peaks sufficiently well distributed over the mass scale to provide plausible mass assignments for each and every peak in the spectrum. Figure 1 is an example of a mass calibration in which the set of peaks displayed matches well with the computed mass positions; however the calibration is performed using only those peaks within the window in Figure 1 and a similar agreement, when using the same calibration, for the molecules shown in Figure 2 is not achieved. The poor mass calibration is remedied by simply including at least one of the peaks in Figure 2 as part of the calibration set. The concept of progressively adding calibration points to the set used to mass calibrate a spectrum is developed in what follows. Figure 2: An example of a poor mass calibration based on extrapolation. Calibration Based on Nominal Masses The procedure for calibrating a spectrum can be summarised as follows: following an initial assignment based on at least two peaks, new peaks are progressively added to the set of mass/time pairs until the observed peaks are sequentially associated with nominal masses. This process can be performed manually using the Exact Mass property page, where peaks are associated with formulae using the mouse, or alternatively nominal masses are used in a sequence of steps involving repeatedly: 1. Finding the peaks using the Find Peaks button. 2. Replacing the current calibration list by nominal masses and times determined from the regions obtained from the Find Peak operation. The Load Regions button transfers the required information from the current set of regions to the calibration list on the Exact Mass property page. 3. Recalibrate the mass scale by pressing the Calib button. The Find Peaks button uses a threshold to identify peak structures in the data; then for each peak identified, a region is created on the spectrum using the name derived from the 2

3 nominal mass determined from the region. The Load Regions button transfers those nominal mass names and computed positions to the calibration table on the Exact Mass property page for which the computed mass is within a tolerance of the nominal mass. The search for these acceptable mass/time pairs begins with the low masses, so the initial calibration should begin with small masses, but typically greater than 10 amu. With each repetition of these steps, the number of regions loaded into the calibration table should increase until, ideally, all the peaks found are included in the calibration table. At this point, the spectrum so calibrated should be surveyed to ensure the peaks, both minor and major, are associated with the nominal masses on the abscissa scale. Figure 3: Nominal mass calibration Calibration using nominal mass values is not always appropriate, for example heavy molecular ions; however, for some spectra, calibration using exact masses is equally inappropriate. The data in Figure 1 is an example of a spectrum for which it is beneficial to use nominal masses rather than exact masses; the spectrum derives from a total ion list file containing image information and minor variations in acquisition conditions across 3

4 the imaged surface cause small shifts in the underlying peaks summed to form the total ion spectrum. Peaks are neither high enough in mass resolution nor well enough defined in terms of position to use an exact mass position. The latter can be demonstrated using false colour images to extract spectra from different zones on the image. An Example of Mass Calibration using Nominal Masses Initially the spectrum is without a mass calibration as seen in Figure 4. The first step is to identify two peaks. Figure 4: Raw time-binned spectrum. Figure 5: Two peaks are identified by creating quantification regions. The regions defined on the spectrum in Figure 5 represent the initial pair of mass/time coordinates used to produce a rough calibration for the mass scale. The regions are created using the Regions property page on the Quantification Parameters dialog window. Each region calculates the time-bin representative of the peak, while the mass corresponding to the computed time-bin is entered into the name field of the 4

5 quantification region. In this case, the name fields are entered with the nominal masses 15 and 23, although these values could equally well have been entered using the formulae C+H*3 and Na, respectively. Calibration based on these two regions is performed by pressing the toolbar button. When the toolbar button is pressed, any spectra appearing in the Active Tile will be calibrated based on regions so defined on the displayed spectra. Figure 6: Spectrum after initial mass calibration. While the calibration in Figure 6 looks reasonable for masses close to the calibration points, the high mass peaks are poorly calibrated. The largest peak in Figure 7 differs by about 18 amu from the mass calibration shown in Figure 3. Figure 7: Poor mass calibration for high mass peaks. Same peaks as those displayed using the inset tile in Figure 3. While the initial mass calibration based to only two low mass peaks is clearly a problem at higher masses, the accuracy is sufficient to begin the iterative process of build a fuller set of mass calibration points. 5

6 Figure 8: Exact Mass property page. Given the initial mass calibration based on the peaks labeled 15 and 23, the Find Peaks button on the Exact Mass property page shown in Figure 8 can be used to assign nominal masses to all peaks characterized by a threshold value. On pressing the Find Peaks button, a dialog window appears in which a threshold value can be entered. In the case of the results shown in Figure 9 the threshold value was set to 20. Once a new set of regions are created using the Find Peaks button, the Load Regions button is pressed, the consequence of which is the mass calibration table on the Exact Mass property page is loaded with the set of calibration points determined from the regions currently defined on the spectrum, subject to the condition that the mass determined from the time bin for each region is within a tolerance of the nominal mass entered into the name field of the region. Following the initial mass calibration and application of the Find Peaks button, the set of regions generated by the Find Peaks button in Figure 9 are limited by the Load Regions button to those displayed in Figure 8. That is, all regions above nominal mass 31 were sufficiently different from the nominal mass to be rejected. The deviation of the computed mass for peaks above 31 amu from the nominal mass is a measure of the error in the original mass calibration. 6

7 Figure 9: Result of Find Peaks with a threshold of 20. Given the new set of calibration points, the Calib button on the Exact Mass property page can be pressed resulting in an improved mass calibration. Repeating the Find Peaks operation followed by reloading the regions into the calibration table reveals that peaks up to 53 amu are now included in the calibration table. A third iteration of these steps produced a calibration table including peaks up to 228 amu, while a forth iteration extends the calibration table up to 561 amu, exhausting the set of peaks found using the Find Peaks button. The mass calibration based on nominal masses is now complete. All that remains is to verify the mass calibration by stepping through the spectral peaks to confirm the presence of peaks at each amu and that known peaks are correctly assigned. The procedure is not without flaw, so verification is necessary, but can provide a means of improving an initial calibration with minimal effort. For high resolution ToF spectra, the use of nominal masses will lead to a rough mass scale which requires refinement using resolved peaks and exact mass formulae (Figure 10). Figure 10: High resolution ToF peaks clearly distinct from the nominal mass of 28 amu. 7

8 NB: The peak marker in Figure 10 for elemental Si is positioned to the left-hand side of the peak. When a ToF spectrum is calibrated using the option on the toolbar, the position of peaks with respect to time are determined from the regions. While the peak maximum may appear to be a good choice for the peak position, the asymmetry typically observed in ToF peaks and the variety of peak shapes over a spectrum suggest, in general, the peak maximum is less well defined than the leading edge of a peak. For this reason, the position of the peak used for the calibration procedure is taken to be the lower full width half maximum. Hence the peak markers will align with the leading edge of the peaks rather than the peak maxima. Note that the calibration option on the Exact Mass property page offers the choice of peak position to the user without limitation. 8

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