The origins of the Cyclic IMS technology

Author: Emma Marsden-Edwards (SELECT SERIES Cyclic IMS Product Manager) and the Waters MS Research Team

Since the SELECT SERIES Cyclic IMS was unveiled at ASMS 2019, we have often been asked about the inspiration behind its revolutionary design. Our latest blog tells the story of how our product development team worked together to develop an industry-changing instrument.

Collaboration and the path to cyclic innovation

From concept to commercial product, the development process for the Cyclic IMS took a number of years. It was an incredibly complex project in terms of what we were trying to achieve and the development of the hardware and software it required. By 2014, we had implemented the technology and produced our first proof-of-concept set of data.  There was a huge amount of interest and excitement within the company and from our early access partners about where the project might lead us. We then set up a small team specifically focused on pushing this technology towards a next-generation instrument. This multidisciplinary collaboration brought together people from diverse scientific and engineering backgrounds, including mechanical and electronic engineers, research, production and application scientists and software specialists. By combining our expertise, we were able to transform an idea into a groundbreaking commercial instrument.

Developing a revolutionary design 

Through our conversations with customers, we knew that they needed a commercial ion mobility system with higher resolving power to allow in depth analysis of the finer structural differences between analytes. We were also inspired by research published in the mid-2000s on multiple-stage ion mobility experiments on a linear device. Because resolution is dependent on the length of the ion mobility device, the challenge was to design a new technology that would enable a similar analytical approach, with increased resolution, without it taking up too much space in the lab. 

The “lightbulb moment” came when we realized this could be achieved through a change in the geometry of the device. The cyclic pathlength design allows ions to move round in multiple passes, achieving higher resolution without resorting to an extended linear arrangement. Though greater resolving power was the goal, we realized that the unique design also opens up new avenues for multifunction capabilities, including IMSn  selection and activation experiments. 

Overcoming challenges

During the development of any new product there will always be barriers that must be overcome. One of the key challenges during this project was finding a way to get ions in and out of the cyclic device. This is because the cyclic sits orthogonally to the main flow of ions through the mass spectrometer. We needed a method of transporting the ions straight through the device or orthogonally around the cyclic path. The solution wasn’t obvious, but the team soon had an epiphany – we developed a new approach using an array of electrodes that can control whether the travelling waves move the ions in the direction of the main axis of the mass spectrometer or around the cyclic pathlength. The expertise of our software and electronic engineers was key to developing the flexibility that would allow users to control the direction of the ions in the device.

Observing the impact

Though product development can be a long and challenging process, we get immense satisfaction from seeing our instruments in the hands of researchers. We are tremendously pleased by the response to the design and the enthusiasm from researchers regarding the unprecedented flexibility that the cyclic provides. Every member of the multidisciplinary team that worked on the project was motivated knowing that their contribution will enable pioneering research in areas that we never contemplated during development. We are very excited to hear about all the amazing discoveries that will be brought about by the Cyclic IMS in the future. Make sure you share these with us using the #SayYesToIMS on social media!