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Dr Patrick Sears

Senior Lecturer in Chemistry and Forensic Analysis
+44 (0)1483 689580
04 AZ 02


Affiliations and memberships

Royal Society of Chemistry
Fellow of the RSC (FRSC)
British Mass Spectrometry Society
Member of BMSS and committee member for the ambient ionisation special interest group


Research interests

My teaching

My publications


DK Burns, Simone Mathias, Bryan J McCullough, Chris J Hopley, David Douce, NM Lumley, Steve Bajic, PATRICK SEARS (2022)Ambient ionisation mass spectrometry for the trace detection of explosives using a portable mass spectrometer, In: International Journal of Mass Spectrometry471116735 Elsevier

Five different classes of explosives were analysed by ambient ionisation mass spectrometry testing selectivity, sensitivity, and repeatability. We compare the effectiveness of two techniques (ASAP and SESI) for the trace detection of five explosives representative of the most common classes of high explosive: HMTD, RDX, PETN, Tetryl and TNT. Experiments also compared the effectiveness of sample loading via a glass fibre swab or glass rod. All analyses were carried out with a Waters Acquity QDa mass spectrometer, a small format mass spectrometer which can be operated in a transportable mode (using ambient air and a small diaphragm pump). Both ambient ionisation techniques, ASAP and SESI, successfully detected the five different explosives which could make them suitable for a screening method. By directly comparing a calibration range of 0.8–10 ng on both swabs and rods for each explosive, it appears that SESI produces less variability per repeat, particularly at the higher end of the range when compared to ASAP which typically has a lower limit of detection and better linearity.

Holly-May Lewis, Roger Webb, Guido F Verbeck, Josephine Bunch, Janella De Jesus, Catia Costa, Vladimir Palitsin, John G. Swales, Richard J. A. Goodwin, Patrick Sears, Melanie Jane Bailey (2019)Nanoextraction coupled to liquid chromatography mass spectrometry delivers improved spatially resolved analysis, In: Analytical Chemistry91(24)pp. 15411-15417 American Chemical Society

Direct analyte probed nanoextraction (DAPNe) is a technique that allows extraction of drug and endogenous compounds from a discrete location on a tissue sample using a nano capillary filled with solvent. Samples can be extracted from a spot diameters as low as 6 µm. Studies previously undertaken by our group have shown that the technique can provide good precision (5%) for analysing drug molecules in 150 µm diameter areas of homogenised tissue, provided an internal standard is sprayed on to the tissue prior to analysis. However, without an isotopically labelled standard, the repeatability is poor, even after normalisation to and the spot area or matrix compounds. By application to tissue homogenates spiked with drug compounds, we can demonstrate that it is possible to significantly improve the repeatability of the technique by incorporating a liquid chromatography separation step. Liquid chromatography is a technique for separating compounds prior to mass spectrometry (LC-MS) which enables separation of isomeric compounds that cannot be discriminated using mass spectrometry alone, as well as reducing matrix interferences. Conventionally, LC-MS is carried out on bulk or homogenised samples, which means analysis is essentially an average of the sample and does not take into account discrete areas. This work opens a new opportunity for spatially resolved liquid chromatography mass spectrometry with precision better than 20%.

Catia Costa, E.M. van Es, P. Sears, J. Bunch, Vladimir Palitsin, H. Cooper, M.J. Bailey (2019)Exploring a route to a selective and sensitive portable system for explosive detection– swab spray ionisation coupled to of high-field assisted waveform ion mobility spectrometry (FAIMS), In: Forensic Science International: Synergy1pp. 214-220 Elsevier

Paper spray mass spectrometry is a rapid and sensitive tool for explosives detection but has so far only been demonstrated using high resolution mass spectrometry, which bears too high a cost for many practical applications. Here we explore the potential for paper spray to be implemented in field applications with portable mass spectrometry. This involved (a) replacing the paper substrate with a swabbing material (which we call “swab spray”) for compatibility with standard collection materials; (b) collection of explosives from surfaces; (c) an exploration of interferences within a ± 0.5 m/z window; and (d) demonstration of the use of high-field assisted waveform ion mobility spectrometer (FAIMS) for enhanced selectivity. We show that paper and Nomex® are viable collection materials, with Nomex providing cleaner spectra and therefore greater potential for integration with portable mass spectrometers. We show that sensitive detection using swab spray will require a mass spectrometer with a mass resolving power of 4000 or more. We show that by coupling the swab spray ionisation source with FAIMS, it is possible to reduce background interferences, thereby facilitating the use of a low resolving power (e.g. quadrupole) mass spectrometer.

Catia Costa, Cecile Frampas, Katherine A. Longman, Vladimir Palitsin, Mahado Ismail, Patrick Sears, Ramin Nilforooshan, Melanie J. Bailey (2019)Paper spray screening and LC-MS confirmation for medication adherence testing: a two-step process, In: Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry Wiley

RATIONALE: Paper spray offers a rapid screening test without the need for sample preparation. The incomplete extraction of paper spray allows for further testing using more robust, selective and sensitive techniques such as liquid chromatography mass spectrometry (LC-MS). Here we develop a two-step process of paper spray followed by LC-MS to (1) rapidly screen a large number of samples and (2) confirm any disputed results. This demonstrates the applicability for testing medication adherence from a fingerprint. METHODS: Following paper spray analysis, drugs of abuse samples were analysed using LC-MS. All analyses were completed using a Q Exactive™ Plus Orbitrap™ mass spectrometer. This two-step procedure was applied to fingerprints collected from patients on a maintained dose of the antipsychotic drug quetiapine. RESULTS: The extraction efficiency of paper spray for two drugs of abuse and metabolites was found to be between 15-35% (analyte dependent). For short acquisition times, the extraction efficiency was found to vary between replicates by less than 30%, enabling subsequent analysis by LC-MS. This two-step process was then applied to fingerprints collected from two patients taking the antipsychotic drug quetiapine, which demonstrates how a negative screening result from paper spray can be resolved using LC-MS. CONCLUSIONS: We have shown for the first time the sequential analysis of the same sample using paper spray and LC-MS, as well as the detection of an antipsychotic drug from a fingerprint. We propose that this workflow may also be applied to any type of sample compatible with paper spray, and will be especially convenient where only one sample is available for analysis.

Additional publications