A new ion source has been developed for rapid, noncontact analysis of materials at ambient pressure and at ground potential. The new source, termed DART (for "Direct Analysis in Real Time"), is based on the reactions of electronic or vibronic excited-state species with reagent molecules and polar or nonpolar analytes. DART has been installed on a high-resolution time-of-flight mass spectrometer (TOFMS) that provides improved selectivity and accurate elemental composition assignment through exact mass measurements. Although DART has been applied to the analysis of gases, liquids, and solids, a unique application is the direct detection of chemicals on surfaces without requiring sample preparation, such as wiping or solvent extraction. DART has demonstrated success in sampling hundreds of chemicals, including chemical agents and their signatures, pharmaceutics, metabolites, peptides and oligosaccharides, synthetic organics, organometallics, drugs of abuse, explosives, and toxic industrial chemicals. These species were detected on various surfaces, such as concrete, asphalt, human skin, currency, airline boarding passes, business cards, fruits, vegetables, spices, beverages, body fluids, horticultural leaves, cocktail glasses, and clothing. DART employs no radioactive components and is more versatile than devices using radioisotope-based ionization. Because its response is instantaneous, DART provides real-time information, a critical requirement for screening or high throughput.