A recent innovation in mass spectrometry is the ability to record mass spectra on ordinary samples, in their native environment, without sample preparation or preseparation by creating ions outside the instrument. In desorption electrospray ionization (DESI), the principal method described here, electrically charged droplets are directed at the ambient object of interest; they release ions from the surface, which are then vacuumed through the air into a conventional mass spectrometer. Extremely rapid analysis is coupled with high sensitivity and high chemical specificity. These characteristics are advantageously applied to high-throughput metabolomics, explosives detection, natural products discovery, and biological tissue imaging, among other applications. Future possible uses of DESI for in vivo clinical analysis and its adaptation to portable mass spectrometers are described.