Surface-assisted laser desorption/ionization mass spectrometry (SALDI-MS) is a high-throughput analytical technique ideally suited for small-molecule detection from different bodily fluids (e.g., saliva, urine, and blood plasma). Many SALDI-MS substrates require complex fabrication processes and further surface modifications. Furthermore, some substrates show instability upon exposure to ambient conditions and need to be kept under special inert conditions. We have successfully optimized mesoporous germanium (meso-pGe) using bipolar electrochemical etching and efficiently applied meso-pGe as a SALDI-MS substrate for the detection of illicit drugs such as in the context of workplace, roadside, and antiaddictive drug compliance. Argon plasma treatment improved the meso-pGe efficiency as a SALDI-MS substrate and eliminated the need for surface functionalization. The resulting substrate showed a precise surface geometry tuning by altering the etching parameters, and an outstanding performance for illicit drug detection with a limit of detection in Milli-Q water of 1.7 ng/mL and in spiked saliva as low as 5.3 ng/mL for cocaine. The meso-pGe substrate had a demonstrated stability over 56 days stored in ambient conditions. This proof-of-principle study demonstrates that meso-pGe can be reproducibly fabricated and applied as an analytical SALDI-MS substrate which opens the door for further analytical and forensic high-throughput applications.
- mesoporous germanium
- bipolar electrochemical etching
- illicit drugs
- laser desorption ionization