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m/z controversy

The labeling of the x-axis of a mass spectrum engendered the most discussion during the creation of this document; however, in spite of a general desire for a better way to label the x-axis of mass spectra, there was no broad consensus for any of the proposed changes. Therefore, this document continues the use of the definitions of the Gold Book [1] and the similar definitions in the Orange Book [2]. The Gold Book recommendation is for the use of m/z as an abbreviation for mass-to-charge ratio, a dimension- less quantity obtained by dividing the mass number of an ion by its charge number [3].

The thomson unit, defined as the quotient of mass in units of u and the number of charges (z), was proposed nearly two decades ago [4], but has not been widely adopted and is therefore not recommended. Labeling the x-axis of a mass spectrum with any unit of mass such as dalton (Da), atomic mass unit (amu), or unified atomic mass unit (u) is strongly discouraged due to the confusion that would result when reporting spectra of multiply charged ions. The quantity plotted on the x-axis of a mass spectrum is a function of both the mass and charge of the ion. Furthermore, the use of amu in place of u is strongly discouraged in all cases; it has been used to denote atomic masses measured relative to the mass of a single atom of 16O, or to the isotope-averaged mass of an oxygen atom, or to the mass of a single atom of 12C

From Definitions of Terms Relating to Mass Spectrometry (IUPAC Recommendations 2013); DOI: 10.1351/PAC-REC-06-04-06 © IUPAC 2013.