5 Creative Ways to Teach Mass Spectrometry that Engage Students

Akanksha Saxena

While there are a plethora of options when it comes to analytical tools for studying different molecules of interest, Mass Spectrometry (MS) is a prime choice among scientists and researchers. Educators dealing with this subject at the school and college level often find it challenging to explain the detailed working and underlying principles of a mass spectrometer machine. Since this topic is replete with complex terminologies like laser desorption, mass-to-charge ratios, time-of-flight (TOF), etc, students often lose track of how MS eventually provides valuable insights into the molecular composition and structure of the sample.

While we understand that MS has revolutionized our understanding of the atomic world, we need to employ out-of-the-box ideas to simplify the same for our students. For this reason, we present 5 creative ways to do so.

1. Use Interactive Models and Simulations

Educators can depend on models and simulations to simplify many concepts and ideas of the MS technique.

  • For starters, simulations can serve as a prime choice to demonstrate sample preparation techniques
  • Students can gather firsthand experience of operating an MS machine by performing the process of ionization in a virtual space with no worries to screw any of the steps.
  • Labster’s MS Simulation offers a chance for your students to learn the correct interpretation protocol of MS spectra, particularly when it comes to fragmentation patterns. As they are constantly guided by Dr. One, our AI Lab Assistant, they will gain a comprehensive understanding of how to decipher complex spectra and identify compounds based on their characteristic fragmentation patterns.
Preview of Mass spectrometer scheme simulation.

2. Learning with Games and Activities

Scientific evidences are abundant on how the gamification approach promotes a deeper understanding of the underlying principles of a complex topic like MS. (1, 2, 3) These educational exercises will foster problem-solving skills specific to MS. Some of the doable exercises are:

  • Sample Preparation (Introduce a hands-on activity where students simulate the process of sample preparation or you can alternatively use the Labster’s quizzes guided by Dr. One where students are tested as they get a life-like experience of sample preparation)
  • Familiarization with the Instrument (Labster offers an MS mini-game where students can familiarize themselves with the different components of an MS machine and learn about its basic functionalities)  

3. Infusing Technology into Study Plans

Educators can embrace multiple dynamic technological tools to enhance the clarity of basic principles of MS and improve students’ access to vast databases of spectra and resources. Here are some effective ways to incorporate technology in the classroom.

  • Online Databases: You can also introduce your students to online databases and repositories of mass spectra like NIST Mass Spectral Library, SpectraBase, or PubChem; which can provide a vast collection of authentic spectra for students to explore and analyze.  
  • Virtual Labs: Like the Labster’s MS Virtual Lab offers an opportunity by the medium of its captivating graphics and scientifically-designed analogies to turn MS into an understandable topic for your students. The option to experiment with virtual samples and instruments will help them gain a meaningful practical experience in a risk-free environment. 
Preview of Sample preparation simulation.
Discover Labster's Mass Spectrometry virtual lab today!

4. Inspiring Learners by Connecting to Career Prospects

Quoting examples of the prospective industries, research fields, and professional spheres where MS is highly recognized can serve as a masterkey to inspire students to learn it with interest. This can be successfully achieved by:

  • Arranging talks with guest speakers from related fields to highlight the importance of MS in pharmaceuticals, forensics, environmental science, or biotechnology.
  • Materializing industrial visits where students can see for themselves how R&Ds utilize MS for different purposes in the commercial space.
  • Discussing case studies that demonstrate the direct impact of MS on solving complex problems in drug discovery, environmental analysis, or food safety.  

5. Connecting the Topic to Real-World Applications

Knowing the real-world applications of any topic that we are learning motivates us to learn it objectively so that we face minimum problems during application. This is why we suggest that you debate real-world scenarios where MS is useful across the globe. If you make your students research one day before your class, they can also pitch novel ways that MS can be applied to solve or improve our understanding of different molecules. From its use in the pharmaceutical industry (for drug discovery and development) to environmental analysis (for detection and quantification of pollutants), MS can be the students’ favorite pick if taught with this approach!

Final thoughts

Teaching mass spectrometry (MS) using modern tools and a more interactive approach is crucial to overcome the boredom often associated with complex terms.


  1. Glover, I. (2013, June). Play as you learn: gamification as a technique for motivating learners. In Edmedia+ innovate learning (pp. 1999-2008). Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).
  2. Eleftheria, C. A., Charikleia, P., Iason, C. G., Athanasios, T., & Dimitrios, T. (2013, July). An innovative augmented reality educational platform using Gamification to enhance lifelong learning and cultural education. In IISA 2013 (pp. 1-5). IEEE.
  3. Patrício, R., Moreira, A. C., & Zurlo, F. (2020). Enhancing design thinking approaches to innovation through gamification. European Journal of Innovation Management, 24(5), 1569-1594.
  4. Domon, B., & Aebersold, R. (2006). Mass spectrometry and protein analysis. science, 312(5771), 212-217.
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