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How to Fix the Perception Problem

Sailing under a new flag – measurement science

Gert Desmet

Richard N. Zare

Emily Hilder

Vicki Wysocki

Gert Desmet: I may be naïve (and this is certainly controversial), but I think that sailing under a new flag such as “chemical measurement science” rather than “analytical science” could rid us of the image of nitpickers and dry sticks we’re currently getting. What we do in our field is spectacular, but we’re not selling it well enough – especially to the younger generation. Many of our fellow chemists consider us a service technology, but they’d be nothing without our measurements and the progress of our field. We have all the reason to be proud of our work, and I feel that a rebranding would only benefit our cause.

Richard N. Zare: Measurement is at the heart of all experimental work – and we need to emphasize this. What we regard as truth is based on observation, and a measurement with no estimate of its uncertainty doesn’t constitute an acceptable measurement. Analytical chemistry is about chemical measurement – meaning that a lot of researchers are doing analytical chemistry without realizing and appreciating it.

Emily Hilder: It’s on us to share why measurement matters and how it impacts our lives every day.

Vicki Wysocki: I’m always puzzled when I meet scientists who don't seem to understand that analytical science is a field of research. Part of the problem is that universities don’t provide structures that value analytical science – some of them don’t include analytical science at all. Over the years, I’ve attended topical conferences where attendees come up to me and ask what molecules or disease I work on. They seem surprised that mass spectrometry instrument and method development could be considered a field of study! Fortunately, funding agencies and industry value analytical science. The fact that my graduating PhD students always have multiple job offers is telling – there is high demand for scientists who understand the value of measurement science. 

Get the message out

Michael Breadmore

John Yates III

Michael Lämmerhofer

Benjamin Garcia

Michael Breadmore: We need to be prepared to communicate to everyone at a level they can understand what we do and why it’s important. Though COVID-19 was bad for many reasons, it was great for analytical science – everyone now knows what a lateral flow assay is and the power of PCR. (We don’t want more pandemics though!)

John Yates III: We need to hammer on about how much analytical science touches all aspects of our lives. Our field is key in keeping food and water safe, diagnosing various diseases, and driving innovations and discoveries.

Michael Lämmerhofer: The public must be educated on the impact of analytical science on our society. There is no pharma product quality, clinical diagnostics, personalized medicine, biomedical research, or safe environment without our field. Analytical science opens doors into undiscovered realms and dimensions that ultimately form our society and keep us safe.

Benjamin Garcia: We should make an effort to attend more non-analytical chemistry conferences and meetings. By going to only analytical conferences, it's a little like preaching to the choir. However, conferences such as ASBMB, AACR, and cell biology-based conferences will continue to promote and honestly educate non-analytical scientists about the benefits of analytical technology for their research, patient health, and so on. Specifically for mass spec, scientists outside of our field think it’s only useful for proteins or metabolites. We have to make an effort to communicate with external fields, fight disinformation, and promote analytical chemistry. Using social media can also benefit this cause.

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About the Author
Jessica Allerton

Associate Editor, The Analytical Scientist

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