Professor Christopher Mayhew BSc, DIC, PhD, FInsP

School of Physics and Astronomy
Professor of Molecular Physics

Contact details

Molecular Physics Group
School of Physics and Astronomy
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

Chris Mayhew is Professor of Molecular Physics at the University of Birmingham, UK, and Professor of Analytical Chemistry and Director of the Institute for Breath Research at the University of Innsbruck, Austria. Over a period of 30 years, he has established a unique suite of instrumentation used for the study of electron attachment and ion-molecule processes.

His applied multidisciplinary research programmes include technological plasma physics and analytical chemistry using soft chemical ionisation techniques, with the latter predominantly focusing on Health Sciences (breath analysis), Atmospheric Chemistry, and Homeland Security. His research also addresses the many current challenges of applying soft chemical ionisation mass spectrometric techniques for breath analysis for the benefit of clinical non-invasive diagnosis procedures and for detecting hidden or entrapped people. This research is paving the way for the development of analytical techniques and instrumentation applied to the identification of a pattern of biomarkers specific to a given disease and to human presence.

Dr Mayhew's research has demonstrated conclusively the link between liver disease and higher levels of limonene in the breath by studying patients before and after liver transplant. His research has led to the discovery of a reliable and non-invasive test for early-stage liver disease detection that would meet an unmet clinical need. These tests not only lead to the detection of early stage liver disease, but could be used to monitor liver function and to determine the efficacy of new drugs for liver disease that are coming onto the market.


  •  PhD in Molecular Physics, Physics Imperial College of Science and Technology, 1985
  • BSc Hons 1st Class in Theoretical Physics Imperial College of Science and Technology, 1981
  • Fellow of the Institute of Physics
  • Alexander von Humboldt Fellow


Currently Chris Mayhew is the leader of two active interdisciplinary research units, one is as head of the Molecular Physics Group in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Birmingham, and the other is as the Director for the Institute for Breath Research (IBR) at the University of Innsbruck, Austria.

The activities and personnel of the IBR are located in two places. Its main location is in Dornbirn, Vorarlberg, but it also has offices and laboratories at the Medical University of Innsbruck, specifically in the Universitätsklinik für Anästhesie und Intensivmedizin. Research programmes are focussed on the fundamental aspects, development and applications of soft chemical ionisation mass spectrometry in various multidisciplinary areas, but with a major focus in the health sciences for the IBR.

For the Molecular Physics Group, Chris Mayhew has been leading multidisciplinary research programmes using the unique suite of instrumentation he has established. The experimental resources provide a cutting-edge facility within the University of Birmingham for innovative and distinctive applied and basic research.

Chris Mayhew has initiated and coordinated two EU Innovative Training Networks (ITNs), resulting in the employment of 25 Early Stage Researchers using soft chemical ionisation techniques as probes to various environments. Within Europe, these have brought together disparate research disciplines and groups and sectors that utilise soft chemical ionisation mass spectrometry (SCIMS). The free exchange of ideas, personnel and equipment have results in a strong European community focused on the adaptation and improvement of SCIMS techniques. The networks have involved industrial companies, universities, governmental bodies, hospitals and research centres throughout Europe. These ITNs continue to result in collaborations and research activities across Europe, which would not have happened otherwise. The MARIE SKŁODOWSKA-CURIE ACTIONS Innovative Training Network: Ion-Molecule Processes for Analytical Chemical Technologies (IMPACT) runs until the 31st December 2019. This ITN involves the training of ten Early Stage Researchers, within an integrated partnership of commercial, governmental and academic organisations. IMPACT is providing Europe with both a world-class capability in Soft Chemical Ionisation Mass Spectrometry Technology and a cohort of highly trained researchers who will bring the benefits of that technology to citizens across the EU.


Chris Mayhew’s teaching activities have included:

  • Supervision of 4th year projects
  • First Year Physics Laboratory Design, Demonstrating and Teaching
  • 3rd Year Astronomy Obervatory Demonstrating
  • 1st Year Tutorials
  • Lecture Courses in:
    • Radiation and Matter
    • Plasma Physics
    • Electromagnetism I and II
    • Quantum Mechanics
    • Light and Atoms

He is currently demonstrating in the 1st year laboratory and designing new experiments and preparing a new lecture course for post graduate students on “Chemical Ionisation Methods in Mass Spectrometry and Applications for Analytical Chemistry”

Chris Mayhew the International Exchange Coordinator for the School of Physics and Astronomy.

Postgraduate supervision

Masters and PhD student supervision


Research interests

  • Fundamental ion-molecule chemistry – understanding reaction mechanisms of importance to planetary atmospheres, interstellar space, technological plasmas and the human volatilome.
  • Use of ion-molecule processes for analytical purposes – applications in homeland security, health science and atmospheric chemistry
  • Collaborations between the members of the IBR and the Molecular Physics Group and the exchange of personnel and ideas have strengthened and is benefitting the health science studies being undertaken in Birmingham and Austria by having access to major facilities, complementary apparatus, different breath sampling platforms, additional funding and expertise.

Current projects

Applying soft chemical ionisation mass spectrometric techniques for breath analysis for the benefit of clinical non-invasive diagnosis procedures and for detecting hidden or entrapped people. These projects include:

(a)    Use of Breath Volatiles to early stage liver disease for personalised health care.
(b)    Prediction of drug tolerance using CYP2C9 breath test. A major obstacle to a truly personalized medicine is the inability to predict patient-specific drug responses due to extensive polymorphisms in a major group of drug-metabolizing enzymes, the cytochrome P450 family (CYPs). Here we are undertaking a comprehensive approach involving molecular modelling, in vitro testing, and metabolic analyses to develop new substrates for the determination of patient CYP2C9 phenotypes in a novel non-invasive breath test.

Other activities

•    Founding member of the Institute of Physics Molecular Physics Group.
•    Former Committee member of the Institute of Physics Division of Atomic, Molecular, Optical and Plasma Physics
•    Member of the organising committee member for the national Quantum Atomic and Molecular Physics Meetings
•    Member of the EPSRC peer review college
•    Member of the EPSRC Physics panel
•    Member of EIPAM (Electron Induced Processes at the Molecular Level – an ESF funded network
•    Partner within an EPSRC funded UK network in non-thermal plasma science.
•    Member of the EPSRC Renewal Panel for the Mass Spectrometry National Service
•    Visiting Research Fellow Open University
•    Physics Consultant for the AQA Examination Board
•    Member of the Academic Board for BritInn – Academic Network Britain-Innsbruck


Recent publications


Mayhew, C 2014, Proton Transfer Reaction Mass Spectrometry. Wiley-Interscience.

Mayhew, C & Ellis, A 2014, Proton Transfer Reaction Mass Spectrometry: Principles and Applications. Wiley-Interscience.


Olivenza-León, D, Mayhew, CA & González-Méndez, R 2019, 'Selective Reagent Ion Mass Spectrometric Investigations of the Nitroanilines', Journal of the American Society for Mass Spectrometry.

Mochalski, P, Mirmigkou, S, Unterkofler, K, Sulzer, P, Mayhew, CA & Märk, TD 2019, 'PTR-MS studies of the reactions of H3O+ with a number of deuterated volatile organic compounds and the subsequent sequential reactions of the primary product ions with water under normal and humid drift tube conditions: implications for use of deuterated compounds for breath analysis', International Journal of Mass Spectrometry, vol. 436, pp. 65-70.

Mochalski, P, Wiesenhofer, H, Allers, M, Zimmermann, S, Güntner, AT, Pineau, NJ, Lederer, W, Agapiou, A, Mayhew, CA & Ruzsanyi, V 2018, 'Monitoring of selected skin- and breath-borne volatile organic compounds emitted from the human body using gas chromatography ion mobility spectrometry (GC-IMS)', Journal of Chromatography. B, Analytical Technologies in the Biomedical and Life Sciences, vol. 1076, pp. 29-34.

O'Hara, ME, Fernández Del Río, R, Holt, A, Pemberton, P, Shah, T, Whitehouse, T & Mayhew, CA 2016, 'Limonene in exhaled breath is elevated in hepatic encephalopathy', Journal of Breath Research, vol. 10, no. 4, 046010.

González-Méndez, R, Watts, P, Olivenza-León, D, Reich, DF, Mullock, SJ, Corlett, CA, Cairns, S, Hickey, P, Brookes, M & Mayhew, CA 2016, 'Enhancement of compound selectivity using a radio frequency ion-funnel proton transfer reaction mass spectrometer: improved specificity for explosive compounds', Analytical Chemistry, vol. 88, no. 21, pp. 10624-10630.

Fernández Del Río, R, O'Hara, ME, Pemberton, P, Whitehouse, T & Mayhew, CA 2016, 'Elimination characteristics of post-operative isoflurane levels in alveolar exhaled breath via PTR-MS analysis', Journal of Breath Research, vol. 10, no. 4, 046006.

Fernández Del Río, R, O'Hara, M, Holt, A, Pemberton, P, Shah, T, Whitehouse, T & Mayhew, C 2015, 'Volatile biomarkers in breath associated with liver cirrhosis — comparisons of pre- and post-liver transplant breath samples', EBioMedicine, vol. 2, no. 9, pp. 1243-1250.

González-Méndez, R, Reich, DF, Mullock, SJ, Corlett, CA & Mayhew, C 2015, 'Development and use of a thermal desorption unit and proton transfer reaction mass spectrometry for trace explosive detection: determination of the instrumental limits of detection and an investigation of memory effects', International Journal of Mass Spectrometry, vol. 385, pp. 13-18.

Matias, C, Mauracher, A, Huber, SE, Denifl, S, Limão-vieira, P, Scheier, P, Märk, TD, Gonzalez Mendez, R & Mayhew, C 2015, 'Dissociative electron attachment to the volatile anaesthetics enflurane and isoflurane and the chlorinated ethanes pentachloroethane and hexachloroethane', International Journal of Mass Spectrometry.

Acton, WJ, Lanza, M, Agarwal, B, Jürschik, S, Sulzer, P, Breiev, K, Jordan, A, Hartungen, E, Hanel, G, Märk, L, Mayhew, C & Märk, TD 2014, 'Headspace analysis of new psychoactive substances using a Selective Reagent Ionisation-Time of Flight-Mass Spectrometer', International Journal of Mass Spectrometry, vol. 360, pp. 28-38.

Hartungen, E, Jürschik, S, Jordan, A, Edtbauer, A, Feil, S, Hanel, G, Seehauser, H, Haidacher, S, Schottkowsky, R, Märk, L, Jaksch, S, Agarwal, B, Becker, K, Mayhew, C, Sulzer, P & Märk, TD 2013, 'Proton transfer reaction-mass spectrometry: fundamentals, recent advances and applications', The European Physical Journal - Applied Physics, vol. 61, no. 2, 24303.

Sulzer, P, Petersson, F, Jürschik, S, Märk, TD, Agarwal, B, Becker, KH, Perry, D, Watts, P & Mayhew, CA 2012, 'Proton transfer reaction mass spectrometry and the unambiguous real-time detection of 2,4,6 trinitrotoluene', Analytical Chemistry, vol. 84, no. 9, pp. 4161-4166.

Sulzer, P, Jordan, A, Maerk, L, Mayhew, C, Becker, K & Maerk, TD 2011, 'Technical Advances in Proton Transfer Reaction-Mass Spectrometry and New Fields of Application', American laboratory, vol. 43, no. 9, pp. 13-15.

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