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  1. Free, publicly-accessible full text available June 18, 2025
  2. Rationale

    Simple, affordable, and rapid methods for identifying the molecular weight (MW) distribution and macromolecular composition of polymeric materials are limited. Current tools require extensive solvent consumption, linear calibrations, and expensive consumables. A simple method for the determination of average MW (Mn,Mw) and chain end groups is demonstrated for synthetic homopolymer standards using direct injection electrospray ionization‐mass spectrometry (ESI‐MS) and an open‐sourced charge deconvolution (CDC) algorithm.

    Methods

    Five homopolymer standards in the 1–7 kDa MW range were analyzed using direct‐injection ESI‐MS on a quadrupole/time‐of‐flight mass spectrometer. The samples investigated, viz. two poly(ethylene oxide) (PEO) and two poly(styrene sulfonic acid) (PSS) standards with narrow polydispersity and one poly(d,l‐alanine) (pAla) standard with undefined polydispersity, were chosen to illustrate challenges with ESI‐MS quantitation. Using the UniDec program, weight average MWs (Mw) obtained from the charge‐deconvoluted spectra were compared to the reportedMwdata of the standards from size exclusion chromatography (SEC) measurements.

    Results

    The MW data derived for the PSS, PEO, and pAla standards agreed well with the corresponding reportedMwor MW range values. The method was able to provide MW, degree of polymerization (DP), and polydispersity index (PDI) information for polymers with narrow (PSS, PEO) as well as broader (pAla) molecular weight distribution; this feature provides an advantage over MW analysis via matrix‐assisted laser desorption/ionization (MALDI) for ESI‐compatible materials. PSS standards differing in average MW by only a few repeat units could be confidently distinguished. Additionally, the oligomeric resolution observed for all samples studied unveiled chain‐end information not available through chromatographic analysis.

    Conclusions

    Overall, the free and easy‐to‐use UniDec CDC algorithm provides a simple, alternative method to measuring MW and DP for polymeric materials without high solvent consumption, expensive ionization sources, or calibration curves. Information about the masses of individual oligomers and the possibility to further characterize these oligomers using tandem mass spectrometry and/or ion mobility techniques constitutes additional benefits of this approach vis‐à‐vis traditional MW and PDI elucidation through SEC.

     
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  3. Macrocyclic poly(glycidyl phenyl ether) (pGPE) synthesized via zwitterionic ring opening polymerization is typically contaminated by chains with linear and tadpole architecture. Although mass spectrometry (MS) analysis can readily confirm the presence of the linear byproduct, due to its unique mass, it is unable to differentiate between the cyclic and tadpole structures, which are constitutional isomers produced by backbiting reactions in monomeric or dimeric chains, respectively. To overcome this problem, ultraperformance reversed-phase liquid chromatography interfaced with electrospray ionization tandem mass spectrometry (UPLC-ESI-MS/MS) was employed. The separation achieved by UPLC revealed that the tadpole isomer elutes before the cyclic structure because of the increased polarity afforded by its distinctive substituents. The ratio of tadpole to cyclic species increased with the degree of polymerization, in agreement with the synthetic method used, as the potential for forming tadpole structures by backbiting is entropically favored in longer polymer chains. Once separated, the two isomers could be independently characterized by tandem mass spectrometry. The macrocyclic and tadpole species exhibit unique fragmentation patterns, including structurally diagnostic fragments for each structure. 
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  5. Abstract

    Thermal desorption/degradation with an atmospheric solids analysis probe (ASAP) and ion mobility (IM) separation are coupled with mass spectrometry (MS) analysis and tandem mass spectrometry (MS/MS) fragmentation to characterize thermoplastic elastomers. The compounds investigated, which are used in the manufacture of a wide variety of packaging materials, are mainly composed of thermoplastic copolymers, but also contain additional chemicals (“additives”), like antioxidants and UV stabilizers, for enhancement of their properties or protection from degradation. The traditional method for analyzing such complex mixtures is vacuum pyrolysis followed by electron or chemical ionization mass spectrometry, often after gas chromatography separation. Here, an alternative, faster approach, involving mild degradation at atmospheric pressure (ASAP) and subsequent characterization of the desorbates and pyrolyzates by IM‐MS, and if needed, MS/MS is presented. Such multidimensional dispersion considerably simplifies the resulting spectra, permitting the conclusive separation, characterization, and classification of the multicomponent materials examined.

     
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  6. null (Ed.)