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The Measurement Scientist?

Many moons ago, a big question loomed for the founders of this very magazine: What should it be called? The Separation Scientist had a nice alliterative ring to it – but their mission was to connect as many techniques and application areas as possible. What about The Analytical Chemist? Given the shifting scope and seemingly unstoppable advances in biological analysis, even analytical chemistry didn’t quite seem to encapsulate everything – and everyone – that belongs to this field. Ultimately, The Analytical Scientist created a big enough umbrella, perhaps causing a ripple of change in how those beneath it describe themselves…

Biased as I may be, I think they made a good choice. But our decade-old debate is something of a microcosm of a more persistent, existential issue for the entire field; namely, who are we? 

Last year, we asked the top 100 most influential analytical scientists of the past decade about the most pressing issues facing the field today. Education, attracting talent, and raising the profile of the field were among the most highly cited challenges. And having spoken in more depth to several leading spokespeople, the perception problem remains – with deep roots going back more than half a century.

Even the term “analytical” can be confusing. As Victoria Samanidou argues, an “analytical scientist/chemist” – developing new analytical tools and techniques – is quite different from someone doing routine, “push-button” chemical analysis. It’s a little like how people who design bridges and the gentleman who serviced my boiler are both referred to as “engineers.” No offense to boiler engineers – or to chemical analysts – but they’re quite different professions. Victoria argues that this conflation has “led scientists in other fields to see all analytical scientists as mere applicationists involved in routine analysis.”

So what is analytical chemistry, fundamentally? Richard Zare makes a strong case for measurement. “We need to redefine chemistry so that it incorporates measurement; and we need to redefine analytical chemistry so that it is understood as the science of measurement – this is what we are and what we do.” So, is it time to sail under a new flag, as Gert Desment also argued. Are you happy to be a measurement scientist?

Not everyone is so sure a rebrand is the answer. Jonathan Sweedler argues that we should all put more effort into lifting our spirits and those of our students to unintentionally raise the profile of the field; Ben Garcia wants to fight for “analytical” and believes interdisciplinary collaboration can create external advocates; and Chris Enke focuses on education – we need to stop teaching analytical chemistry as a series of unrelated techniques, he says.  

But where do you stand in the debate? Analytical or measurement? Let us know

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About the Author
James Strachan

Over the course of my Biomedical Sciences degree it dawned on me that my goal of becoming a scientist didn’t quite mesh with my lack of affinity for lab work. Thinking on my decision to pursue biology rather than English at age 15 – despite an aptitude for the latter – I realized that science writing was a way to combine what I loved with what I was good at.

From there I set out to gather as much freelancing experience as I could, spending 2 years developing scientific content for International Innovation, before completing an MSc in Science Communication. After gaining invaluable experience in supporting the communications efforts of CERN and IN-PART, I joined Texere – where I am focused on producing consistently engaging, cutting-edge and innovative content for our specialist audiences around the world.


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