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Fields & Applications Liquid Chromatography, Gas Chromatography, Capillary Electrophoresis, Mass Spectrometry, Petrochem, Food, Beverage & Agriculture

Around the World in 80 Analyses: South America

Look back at our previous Power Lists; you’ll notice the USA or Europe dominating in terms of numbers, but good science is not constrained by geography. Here, we take a look at a region that has seen rapid development in the analytical sciences in recent years through the eyes of three analytical chemists working at the cutting-edge in Brazil, Chile, and Colombia.

Brazil

Analytical science is booming in Brazil, but more effective collaboration with industry could accelerate the field.

By Fernando Mauro Lanças

My research

My work at São Paulo State University (UNESP) encompasses all aspects of separation science, with an emphasis on chromatographic techniques – from the synthesis of stationary phases to new coating and packing procedures to the development of instrumentation, accessories, and coupled systems, such as supercritical fluid extraction-capillary electrophoresis (SFE-CE).

Over the years, my research interests have evolved. I started working on the production and characterization of alternative fuels (from coal, shale and biomass) and shortly moved almost exclusively to separation sciences and related techniques (such as mass spectrometry).  Having obtained the required background on this subject, I developed an online fully automated system consisting of sample preparation, chromatographic separation, and mass spectrometric detection. I am now working on the miniaturization of this system by developing more universal, robust and economical miniaturized extractions columns; capillary (both filled and open tubular) nano-LC separation columns; and the coupling of these with tandem mass spectrometry. By selecting the proper micro-extraction column, a simple switching valve is able to selectively transfer analytes to a nano-LC separation column for a final separation before MS/MS analysis. 

For the next 5–10 years, the main goal is to finalize this ambitious project by developing the best possible extraction column (we have been investigating the proper tubing material, dimensions, novel sorbents, and so on) and the ideal nano-LC columns (packed, monolithic, WCOT and PLOT– from novel materials to improved column packing and coating systems). In addition, the coupling of these nano extraction-nano separation columns to mass spectrometry is under investigation by evaluating alternative approaches to electrospray ionization, including electron ionization (also termed electron impact, EI), which has been the standard GC-MS ionization technique for decades.

Ultimately, I intend to work on the “chromatographer’s dream” – unified chromatography.

Ultimately, I intend to work on the “chromatographer’s dream” – unified chromatography. We have published some work on this concept, but I always felt that the existing technology was not ready for such an ambitious project. However, if we can miniaturize all forms of chromatography and achieve efficient coupling with MS, we will be ready to develop the proper instrumentation, columns and accessories to perform gas, liquid, and supercritical fluid chromatography (and various combinations thereof) in a single experiment.

Analytical science in Brazil

Excellent research in analytical chemistry is performed at public and private universities, governments agencies and research centers. The number of PhD students defending analytical chemistry theses in Brazil over the last three years (2016–2018) is estimated to be over 3,000 – and the number is growing. 

By its nature, analytical chemistry is an applied science, and analytical tools are widely used across the country. Many laboratories are very well equipped with state-of-the-art analytical chemistry equipment, including WCOT GC columns, UHPLC and superficially porous technologies, as well as high resolution and tandem MS systems.

My own area, separation science, is evolving more rapidly than anyone would have expected 10 years ago. Traditional applications include petrochemical (from field exploitation to final product quality control), ethanol and sugar, pharmaceutical and veterinary drugs, food and beverage safety, food-derived products (such as fruit essential oils), sports doping, and many others. As one of the world’s largest botanical reserves, Brazil has always been a center for research into active ingredients from natural products – extraction, purification and analysis of these materials requires skilled separation scientists. In addition, Brazil has the largest reserve of fresh water worldwide, so water quality research is a priority for Brazilian officials and scientists. Notably, more rigorous regulation of food, pharmaceuticals, and veterinary drug production is also driving advances in separation science. As one of the largest food producers in the region, the country has to maintain a strict control on food safety for both exportation and the internal market.

To meet the country’s growing need for analytical chemistry expertise, I would like to see an ongoing analyst training program to help scientists adapt to more efficient and environmentally friendly technologies.

I’d like to see more investment from private companies in research and educational projects in separation sciences.

In contrast to the USA or Europe, research funding in Brazil (and Latin America as a whole) comes almost entirely from the government, with little money coming from industry. As a consequence, the public universities are better equipped with modern instrumentation for teaching analytical chemistry in general, and separation sciences in particular. I’d like to see more investment from private companies in research and educational projects in separation sciences. Although the industry–academia interaction is maturing in Latin America, the rate of progress is currently too slow to allow full benefit on both sides. My university, São Paulo State University, awards special funding for industry–academia research. It is a relatively new program, but the results have been positive so far.

Looking ahead

Analytical chemistry in general, and separation science in particular, are key tools to improve quality of life everywhere. The growth of analytical chemistry in Brazil can be seen in the ever-increasing volume of scientific presentations and publications coming from the country.  According to a recent publication by the Brazilian Chemical Society (1) the proportion of research originating from Brazil across 12 analytical science journals is rising year-on-year – demonstrating the growing visibility of Brazilian scientists in the global community. Brazilian scientists were particularly active in chemometrics, microextractions, and green chemistry.

The Brazilian National Symposium on Analytical Chemistry (ENQA) in September 2018 was the largest yet, with more than 1,200 participants. COLACRO (Latin American Symposium on Chromatography and Related Techniques) and SIMCRO (Brazilian Symposium on Chromatography and related techniques) also seeing increasing attendance. The next COLACRO will be in July 2019; more than 1,000 participants are expected.

In many countries, the analytical sciences are not considered an independent discipline but rather a toolbox to be used by other disciplines – but in Brazil we have a clear and growing space for fundamental research in this area. As the nation demands more efficient and selective drugs, higher quality drinking water, improved air quality, safer food, and solutions to many other challenges that affect our daily lives, we can look forward to the increasing involvement of analytical chemistry – and separation sciences.

 

Fernando Mauro Lanças is a Professor at São Paulo State University, Brazil.

Where Next?

This article is the start of an ongoing series highlighting the achievements of analytical scientists in different regions, particularly areas that are under-represented at conferences, in journals – and in our own Power List. We’d love to hear where you think we should turn our spotlight next – email [email protected] or leave a comment online.

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About the Author
Fernando Mauro Lanças

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