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Business & Education Chemical, COVID-19

Fighting Bad Guys in the Shadows

Incredible applications for analytical technologies are published every day – sometimes (if not often) in response to rather troubling events. Peatland destruction, releasing millennia of trapped carbon? Nuclear magnetic resonance guides the way. Tainting of our water by so-called “forever chemicals”? Chromatography tandem MS techniques seek the truth. Brains turned to glass by pyroclastic flows of 520 oC? Proteomics investigates.

Analytical chemists act as unsung defenders on the frontline to tackle – and understand – our greatest threats; the recent development of a combined optics and magnetic particles technique for high-throughput COVID-19 coronavirus detection from saliva emphasizes this dedication (1). And, though the technology requires investment for expansion, the breakthrough exemplifies the resilient rise of analytics to combat insidious issues – a beloved vigilante, fighting bad guys in the shadows.

Collaboration is key to victory in our call to arms. In the case of clinical issues, instrument developers and clinicians must act in tandem to collect samples and validate methods; for environmental matters, analysts must side with governments to enact meaningful change and protect citizens; in forensics, the efforts of archeological experts ensure our analytical success.

The other secret weapon in our arsenal: information and data sharing. In the race to combat the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, ACS have released a free-to-read virtual issue of coronavirus research, facilitating open access to research-relevant articles. More widely, cloud-based platforms and databases of chemical information (such as METLIN – an MS identification database comprising over 500,000 molecular standards) allow us to easily capitalize on data acquired by our peers. Coupled with the rise of chemometric approaches for mass data management – and the rise of deep learning and artificial intelligence – it has never been easier to combine our forces (and expertise).

In short, you provide a light in the dark – guiding one another, and society, towards positive change. Though the darkness can be pressing (think pandemics and immediate nuclear threats), you persevere to navigate it – sometimes putting yourselves in harm’s way to do so. And from this darkness sprouts progress, paving the way for the next generation of analysts to illuminate further recesses previously beyond our reach.

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  1. Bar-Ilan University, “New technology developed by Dr Amos Danielli may significantly reduce diagnostic time of coronavirus” (2020). Available at:

About the Author

Matthew Hallam

I've always wanted a career in which I could practice my creativity, even when I worked on the assembly line in a fish factory. At one time, I channeled this need into dance, drawing, poetry and fiction, and I still do most of these things. But, following completion of my MSc(Res) in Translational Oncology and time working in labs and as a Medical Writer for major pharmaceutical companies, I'm happy to find myself in a career that allows me to combine my creative side with my scientific mind as the Editor of The Analytical Scientist.

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