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Mass spectrometry is a micro-analytical instrumental spectroscopic technique that requires only a few picomoles of analyte to provide characteristic information such as molecular weight and structure.

To achieve this, it is necessary to ionise the analyte, using a source of energy that can vary. In the classical electron impact technique, some of the molecular ions of the analyte being formed fragment to give rise to a variety of fragment ions; the resulting fragmentation pattern together with the residue molecular ions constitute the mass spectrum. In principle, the mass spectrum of each compound is unique and can be used as a chemical 'fingerprint' for characterisation of the analyte.