Development of HPLC-Orbitrap method for identification of N-bearing molecules in complex organic material relevant to planetary environments

Abstract : Although the Cassini Spacecraft and the Huygens lander provided numerous information about Titan atmospheric chemistry and the formation of its aerosols, the exact composition of these aerosols still remains unknown. A fruitful proxy to investigate these aerosols is the use of laboratory experiments that allow producing and studying analogs of Titan aerosol, the so-called tholins. Even when produced in the laboratory, unveiling the exact composition of the aerosol remains problematic due to the high complexity of the material. Numerous advances have been recently made using high-resolution mass spectrometry (HRMS) (0020, 0027 and 0011) that allowed the separation of isobaric compounds and a robust identification of chemical species composing tholins regarding their molecular formulae. Nevertheless isomeric species cannot be resolved by a simple mass measurement. We propose here an analysis of tholins by high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) coupled to HRMS to unveil this isomeric ambiguity for some of the major tholins compounds. By comparing chromatograms obtained when analyzing tholins and chemical standards, we strictly identified seven molecules in our tholins samples: melamine, cyanoguanidine, 6-methyl-1,3,5-triazine-2,4-diamine, 2,4,6-triaminopyrimidine, 3-amino-1,2,4-triazole, 3,5-Dimethyl-1,2,4-triazole and 2,4-diamino-1,3,5-triazine. Several molecules, including hexamethylenetriamine (HMT) were not present at detectable levels in our sample. The use for the first time of a coupled HPLC-HRMS technique applied to tholins study demonstrated the interest of such a technique compared to single high-resolution mass spectrometry for the study of tholins composition.
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Thomas Gautier, Isabelle Schmitz-Afonso, David Touboul, Cyril Szopa, Arnaud Buch, et al.. Development of HPLC-Orbitrap method for identification of N-bearing molecules in complex organic material relevant to planetary environments. Icarus, Elsevier, 2016, 275, pp.259-266. ⟨10.1016/j.icarus.2016.03.007⟩. ⟨insu-01309178⟩

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