I feel like a quadropole-egic at my new job.
June 11, 2012 9:02 PM   Subscribe

I need to become an expert in mass spectrometry. Help me, smart scientist mefites!

I'm working in a new position with a Ab Sciex 4000 qtrap doing peptide analysis. We are developing new methods and it's a lot of fun BUT I feel like there is SO much I don't know.

I need your greatest and best resources for everything that is mass spec. Nothing is too basic or too advanced. I need to know as much as I can.
posted by rainygrl716 to Science & Nature (2 answers total)
Congratulations! Sounds like you're using an advanced and expensive piece of equipment there. I'm not in mass spec myself, but here's my take on your situation.

If you have some background in the field, you might read the manuals that came with the unit. (If you can't find them, PDFs are online.) If you're starting from Square One, I see that Ab Sciex has training classes for their equipment, and I would expect your employer to send you to those classes and pay for them.

Also, I'd ask around the lab and see who is experienced with mass spectrometers, and get real friendly with them. Ask them for a simple intro, ask about procedures your lab uses, and ask any questions that come up. Take notes. Be real nice and real friendly and appreciative of what they tell you. Oh, and bring bagels/croissants/donuts to the lab.
posted by exphysicist345 at 10:14 PM on June 11, 2012

Read articles and reviews, of course. Read the methods sections in particular and look for methods papers. Seek out standard methods from benchmark institutions in your field (eg NIH).

Your specific manufacturer almost certainly runs regular instrument operator courses. They can be expensive, but are of some use, particularly if you need to come up to speed quickly.

Manufacturers and consumables suppliers are always happy to talk to instrument operators, but you need to watch their bushy tails for twitches when they get overstimulated. The benes and trinkets they offer can be very shiny for all that. Likewise, the big instrument shows can be very educational. The granddaddy of them all is PittCon, but there will be domain-specific ones too.

Conferences and talks with colleagues can be great. We also have MS users groups/seminars in my area, which can be informative to attend. Ask around your local universities of government labs.

We often stage people in our lab for instrument training and data analysis. A mini-post doc or a term in another lab can be very beneficial. Look for opportunities to do a visit with a lab who is an expert in the subject. There are often special funds and scholarships available for such purposes. The PIs like this because we often have to report how many HQIs we have each year. Adding another person always looks good on the year-end report. Ask around. There may be more opportunities than you might think.

That all said, the best thing to do, however, is time on the instrument. Sit down in front of it and run standards until you can get repeatable results. Understand how to tune the beam from source to detector. Learn how to do simple maintenance. Don't be afraid to crawl around under the machine. Volunteer to help experienced staff.

Don't get discouraged if this all seems like a lot to take in right now. People spend their lives with a single technique and still have more to learn. To get to be a competent operator, one who doesn't need supervision and who can produce work on her own, takes a couple-three years of using the machine frequently for most people. At that point, you'll be ready to teach the next person.
posted by bonehead at 10:48 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

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