Vacuum applications in times of COVID-19 & other pandemics

Posted by Dieter Müller on Apr 30, 2020 2:30:00 PM

Given the situation with COVID-19, many questions are being asked about how vacuum technology (specifically mass spectrometers) can help with health diagnostics and research.

With this in mind, in this short blog we’ll explore how mass spectrometers can be used in the medical field to tackle pandemics like COVID-19.


Introduction to mass spectrometers

Mass spectrometers are indispensable and powerful tools used in research and analysis of proteomics and genomics, as well as in forensics, drug development, food safety and homeland security.

The various models of mass spectrometers ionise samples and analyse the compounds in one or several quadrupoles in a series. The functional principle of the quadrupoles is the same as in residual gas analysers ('RGAs'), which we explained in our eBook: The Ultimate Guide to Residual Gas Analysers. 

The growing popularity of mass spectrometers 

The use of spectrometers in virology

These instruments are now gaining prominence due to proteomic research in the field of virology. The verification of a person being infected with, for example, SARS-CoV-2, is generally done using the PCR method (Polymerase Chain Reaction). This method requires no vacuum but takes several hours to deliver an exact result.

Analysis based on mass spectrometric processes using the MALDI-ToF technique might gain importance in the future (see Establishment and Application of a Universal Coronavirus Screening Method Using MALDI-TOF Mass Spectrometry, published in Frontiers of Microbiology), this is because these instruments ionise samples by laser and analyse the fragments in a time-of-flight spectrometer – a process conducted under high vacuum. The ionisation is happening under a vacuum in the 1-5 mbar range. Analysis in the ToF-Spectrometer finally occurs in pressures below 10-07 mbar. In most cases, so-called multi-inlet or split-flow turbomolecular pumps are used. Rather than using several discrete TMPs, these variants have several pumping ports for the different vacuum chambers of the instrument, ultimately reducing costs and saving space.


Example of an Edwards Split Flow TMP

Example of an Edwards Split Flow TMP


Example of a Leybold Triple-Inlet TMP

Example of a Leybold Triple-Inlet TMP


Vacuum applications in hospitals and medicine  

Demand for sterilisation of medical equipment in hospitals is also growing, even for masks! For example, plasma sterilisation under vacuum is highly efficient and does no damage to the material. Plasma sterilisers create a plasma of hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) using microwaves in a vacuum of 1 mbar. The medical instruments remain at room temperature (for further information see: If sterilised with the classic hot steam (autoclave @ 130 C) method, they would be destroyed. Common pumps are mid and large-size rotary vane pumps with special traps in the exhaust.

To learn more about how vacuum technology is utilised in various fields such as  medical equipment, transportation and space research, check out our guide to  Vacuum Applications.

Find out more about the role of vacuum technology in medical applications and analysis in our new medical blog series.

Explore the operation, construction and application uses of Residual Gas Analysers by downloading our eBook today: