A reflectron (mass reflectron) is a type of time-of-flight mass spectrometer (TOF MS) that comprises a pulsed ion source, field-free region, ion mirror, and ion detector and uses a static or time dependent electric field in the ion mirror to reverse the direction of travel of the ions entering it. Using the reflectron, one can substantially diminish a spread of flight times of the ions with the same mass-to-charge ratio (m/z) caused by spread in kinetic energy of these ions measured at the exit from the ion source.
The idea of improving mass resolution in TOF MS by implementing the reflection of ions from a region with retarding electric field (the ion mirror) has been first proposed by Russian scientist S. G. Alikhanov.In 1973, the dual-stage reflectron utilizing an ion mirror with two regions of homogeneous field was built in a laboratory of Boris Aleksandrovich Mamyrin.Mass resolution of the reflectron measured over broad mass range is much larger than that in a simpler (so-called linear) time-of-flight mass spectrometer comprising a pulsed ion source, flight tube, and ion detector. The masses of ions analyzed in the reflectron can span from a few Dalton to a few million Dalton. Sensitivity in the reflectron used for the analysis of ions produced in vacuum by photo or electron ionization, e.g., matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization source, can be lower than in linear TOF MS due to post-source decay - a dissociation of vibrationally-excited molecular ions (often referred as metastable ions).