Eponymous Mass Spectrometry: The Brubaker Prefilter and Kendrick Mass

Sep 01, 2013

The time is ripe for further recognition of the breadth of analytical mass spectrometry. Other than awards, prizes, and fellowships, an alternative method of recognition in the community is to use an individual's name in a description of the contribution — an eponymous tribute. Eponymous terms enter into the literature independently of prize or award, and are often linked to a singular, specific, and timely achievement. Here, we highlight the Brubaker prefilter and Kendrick mass.

The 2013 annual meeting of the American Society for Mass Spectrometry (ASMS) concluded a few months ago. The continued growth of that conference, and the breadth of research and application in mass spectrometry (MS) evident there and described in other professional research conferences, reflects the vitality of modern MS. That growth seems to continue with few limits. The growth is catalyzed by a need for analysis in new application venues at better sensitivities, but growth is also supported by innovation in instrumentation and information processing. The 2013 ASMS conference celebrated 100 years of MS, and Michael Gross gave a presentation "The First Fifty Years of MS: Building a Foundation." It is still an unattainable ideal to reliably forecast the future simply by examining the past, and truly significant advances often seem to appear from nowhere. As is true in most scientific research, MS develops predominantly through incremental improvements. We can generally predict such improvements. More singular revolutionary advances, still recognized over the perspective of years, should be recognized through research awards such as the Nobel Prize. A third type of advancement lies between the two, and is neither simply iterative (which belongs to everyone in a sense) or transformative (which is recognized by a singular prize such as the Nobel). These important achievements are recognized within the community by awards of professional organizations, but also through high citation in the literature of specific publications as well as the eponymous citation. Eponymous citations, interestingly enough, sometimes do not include a traditional citation and reference to a publication. Often, the use of a name stands alone. For example, in recent columns in this series, we have described the use of Girard's reagents in derivatization, Penning ionization, and the Faraday cup detector. Current scientific publications that use that method or those devices may not cite all the way back to the original publication, and may not include any citation at all. Using the name alone seems to suffice.

In some fields of science, such as organism biology, the naming rights for a newly discovered organism go to its discoverer, and the scientist's name can be part of the term eventually approved by scientific nomenclators. In astronomy, naming rights for celestial bodies may also link to the first discoverer, or organizations may provide recognition of past achievements through the use of names. Features on the Moon and Mars, for example, reflect significant past scientific achievements. The instruments still roving Mars are providing a large number of "naming opportunities," some of which seem to be tongue-in-cheek. In chemistry, organic chemists who develop a certain reaction often see their names associated with that reaction (1–3). Ion fragmentation reactions in MS can follow this tradition; the McLafferty rearrangement is a significant eponymous example. In instrumentation and engineering, devices and mechanical inventions are also often named after their inventors (4). Sometimes, even when the inventor shuns publicity (5), the device is so perfect for its application that it remains in use for decades. Thus, users encounter the Brannock device without ever knowing the name, perhaps, but the cognoscenti are familiar with its history.

Table I: A sampling of other eponymous terms in mass spectrometry
Mass spectrometers are complex instruments, encompassing technologies from vacuum science, ion optics, materials science, electronics, information and computer science, and more. Instrumental MS showcases a number of inventions named after the inventor. We describe some here in this column. These represent eponymous terms that are, like the Brannock device, so widely used or are such an integral part of the science that they are referred to by name without citation or explanation. Table I includes a few eponymous terms that should be familiar to mass spectrometrists. In some cases, as for the several eponymous terms containing the name of A.O.C. Nier, the pioneering contributions have been described in honorific publications (6). The list in Table I is not comprehensive and does not include underlying eponymous terms in basic science such as Taylor cone, Fourier transform, Coulomb's law, Franck-Condon transitions, or the like. Some eponymous terms are in limited use or they may appear in the literature only a few times; these occurrences are both hard to discover and difficult to document. From the perspective of 50 or 100 years in laying the foundation for MS, there may be a few things that we have always known that we did not actually know until somebody pointed it out. The goal in this column is not to revisit some obscure contribution, but rather to provide an appreciation of contributions that support modern MS.