The study of low molecular weight compounds by matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization (MALDI) is difficult because of the presence of ions originating from the matrix in the low-m/z range. In order to resolve these problems, new matrix-free approaches were developed based on laser desorption/ionization from the surface of various materials such as graphite and porous silicon. Our work involves the use of ‘desorption ionization on porous silicon mass spectrometry’ (DIOS-MS) in the negative ion mode to study fatty acid compounds. The potential of the DIOS-MS technique is shown and an insight into the ionization mechanism provided. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.