Mass spectrometry (MS) is an analytical technique that measures the mass-to-charge ratio of ions. The results are typically presented as a mass spectrum, a plot of intensity as a function of the mass-to-charge ratio. Mass spectrometry is used in many different fields and is applied to pure samples as well as complex mixtures.

A mass spectrum is a plot of the ion signal as a function of the mass-to-charge ratio. These spectra are used to determine the elemental or isotopic signature of a sample, the masses of particles and of molecules, and to elucidate the chemical identity or structure of molecules and other chemical compounds.

In a typical MS procedure, a sample, which may be solid, liquid, or gaseous, is ionized, for example by bombarding it with electrons. This may cause some of the sample's molecules to break into charged fragments or simply become charged without fragmenting. These ions are then separated according to their mass-to-charge ratio, for example by accelerating them and subjecting them to an electric or magnetic field: ions of the same mass-to-charge ratio will undergo the same amount of deflection.[1] The ions are detected by a mechanism capable of detecting charged particles, such as an electron multiplier. Results are displayed as spectra of the signal intensity of detected ions as a function of the mass-to-charge ratio. The atoms or molecules in the sample can be identified by correlating known masses (e.g. an entire molecule) to the identified masses or through a characteristic fragmentation pattern.