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Analytical chemistry





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Recent molecular dynamics (MD) simulations from various laboratories have advanced the general understanding of electrospray ionization (ESI)-related processes. Unfortunately, computational cost has limited most of those previous endeavors to ESI droplets with radii of ∼3 nm or less, which represent the low end of the size distribution in the ESI plume. The current work extends this range by conducting simulations on aqueous ESI droplets with radii of 5.5 nm (∼23 000 water molecules). Considering that computational cost increases with r6, this is a significant step forward. We focused on the ESI process for polypropylene glycol (PPG) which is a common ESI-MS calibrant. Different chain lengths (PPG10, 30, and 60) were tested in droplets that were charged with excess Na+. Solvent evaporation and Na+ ejection, with occasional progeny droplet formation, kept the systems at 80-100% of the Rayleigh limit throughout their life cycle. PPG chains migrated to the droplet surface where they captured Na+ via binding to ether oxygens. Various possible pathways for PPG release into the gas phase were encountered. Some PPG10 runs showed ejection from the droplet surface, consistent with the ion evaporation model (IEM). In other instances, PPG was released after near-complete solvent evaporation, as envisioned by the charged residue model (CRM). A third avenue was the partial separation from the droplet to form double or single-tailed structures, with subsequent chain detachment from the droplet. This last pathway is consistent with the chain ejection model (CEM). Immediately after detachment many chains were electrostatically stretched, but they subsequently collapsed into compact conformers. Extended structures were retained only for the most highly charged ions. Our simulations were complemented by ESI-MS and ion mobility measurements. MD-predicted charge states and collision cross sections were in agreement with these experimental data, supporting the mechanistic insights obtained.

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