It has long been known that strong electric fields can disrupt liquid surfaces. One particularly useful application of this observation has been the development of electrospray-ionization (ESI) systems.

The basic concept is to eject liquid from a nozzle connected to a voltage source that has a relatively high electric potential compared to its surroundings. When adjusted for certain operating conditions, a thin jet of liquid is ejected from the nozzle that subsequently breaks up into charged droplets having a relatively uniform size. There are many useful industrial applications for a system that produces small droplets of specified size; particularly if the droplets don’t coalesce because of their electrical repulsion.

Having a charge also means that these drops can be electrically deflected toward a target. This technology, for example, has been advantageously applied to paint spraying, atomization of fuels, printing, mass spectroscopy and a variety of spray drying processes.