Polymers can be degraded by the effects of light, oxygen, heat, etc. so it is important to understand how the polymer structures change during degradation. Pyrolysis gas chromatograph quadrupole mass spectrometer (Py-GC-QMS) and matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization time-of-flight mass spectrometer (MALDI-TOFMS) are powerful tools for analyzing polymeric materials.
Py-GC-QMS is a method that instantaneously heats a sample with a pyrolyzer and then analyzes the pyrolysis products by GC-MS. Since most of the pyrolysis products are related to monomers and dimers, this technique allows for easy identification of the polymer substructures which is useful for identifying changes to the polymer when degradation occurs. MALDI-TOFMS involves a soft ionization technique that can directly ionize and analyze the intact polymer molecules and often produces singly-charged ions even for high molecular weight compounds.
As a result, the m/z axis of the mass spectrum is equal to the mass of the ions, thus making it easy to interpret polymer distributions. Additionally, when MALDI is used with a high-resolution TOFMS, the accurate mass of each ion in the polymer series can be used to calculate their elemental compositions. Moreover, the molecular weight distribution of polymers can be calculated from the ion intensity distribution. In this work, we used Py-GC-QMS and high-resolution MALDI-TOFMS to evaluate the effects of UV irradiation on polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA).