Upping the (Analytical) Ante

We catch up with three speakers from the 41st International Symposium on Capillary Chromatography and 14th GC×GC Symposium in Fort Worth (fondly known as “Riva in Texas”) to find out what got people talking – and discover that analytical science still has more than a few aces up its sleeve.

July 2017

Consuming Passion

Vincent Remcho shares personal highlights of the event – and his new consumables concept.

What’s the latest from your lab?

We’re producing novel high-throughput screening consumables that leverage existing laboratory tools. At the symposium, I spoke about our recently developed disposable microfluidic microtiter plates. We can add reagents to certain wells and interconnect them; those reagents can then be dried so that you have a consumable that can be used in any plate reader, whether UV-vis or fluorescence, depending on the assay. It’s a way of embedding separations and sensors together into a microfluidic platform that fits into existing plate readers, so that a broader cross-section of end users can access the technology.

The potential impact of the work is high and the University has been quick to protect the IP, so we have only recently been able to share information on it. Primarily, we have focused on two fields of application for the technology. One is medical diagnostics – the sensing of multiple biomarkers/target analytes for disease diagnostics. The second is the detection of heavy metals and other toxins in the environment.

What were the key trends at ISCC?

There was a resurgence of interest in ion separations/analysis, partly as a result of environmental concerns in the USA. In 2015, a reservoir of contaminated water from an old mine was released into the Animas River in the western United States (the Gold King Mine waste water spill). The spill included toxic lead and cadmium, bringing public attention to the importance of metal analysis of water. The renewed interest was reflected in a number of talks on ion separations at ISCC – everything from capillary electrolytic eluent generation for glycan separation to trace analysis of ions by matrix elimination. A particular highlight was the Giorgia Nota Award lecture from Sandy Dasgupta at University of Texas at Arlington on ion chromatography: “Open Tubular Ion Chromatography. Two Decades of Pursuit: Quo Vadis Domine?” He led with a tribute to Giorgia Nota, who sadly died within a year of retiring, and had some wise words on appreciating and enjoying our colleagues while we have them, both professionally and personally.

Multidimensional separations were of course a strong theme, including an impressive session on chemometrics for GC×GC, with standout lectures on comprehensive chemical fingerprinting for wine analysis by Stephen Reichenbach from the University of Nebraska, and exploring the capabilities of post-column chromatography with FID by Andrew Jones at Activated Research Company (ARC). The latter described a relatively new product, the Polyarc system, which uses an inorganic catalyst to reduce organic molecules to methane and so allows almost universal detection of organic molecules with FID, while a consistent response factor between analytes makes calibration far easier (for more on Polyarc, see tas.txp.to/0617/POLYARC).

Unsurprisingly, proteomics and biomarkers continue to be hot topics, with great talks on capillary zone electrophoresis as a tool for ultrasensitive bottom-up proteomics (Norman Dovichi, University of Notre Dame), tracking chronic lung disease progression through volatile biomarkers (Heather Bean, Arizona State University), the detection of Mycobacterium bovus in lung infection, and rapid diagnosis of invasive aspergillosis.

On the GC side, novel sorbents were much discussed. There was still some talk of monoliths, but attention seems to be turning more to ionic liquids, as covered by Len Sidisky of MilliporeSigma.

What challenges face the field?

One of the big challenges for the field right now is one that faces all areas of scientific endeavor: the lack of interest on the part of governments to invest in research. It’s a disconcerting trend but it was good to see it being addressed in such a clear and scientific way at ISCC – with genuine concern and honest evaluation. In my opinion, a piece of the solution lies in better informing the public of the value we add as measurement scientists. One of the beautiful aspects of analytical science is that it is such a practical field – questions about the environment and health are of concern to most people – and analytical scientists answer those questions. It puts us in a wonderful position to communicate the value that our research adds and how it positively impacts on the public. 

How will things change by Riva 2027?

I certainly expect to see a continuing trend towards miniaturization and low-cost analytical devices. Mike Ramsey (UNC Chapel Hill) opened a session on microanalysis by talking about his work on microfabricated GC-HPMS, while Adam Woolley (BYU) is using microfluidic devices to analyze preterm birth biomarkers, and his group has continued to make really good progress.

We can expect to see continued integration of chromatography and mass spectrometry. A plenary presentation by Richard Zare (Stanford) on drop-by-drop analysis using mass spectrometry covered not only the work of his own lab, but that of labs around the world.

I also had a great conversation with Kevin Thurbide from the University of Calgary about the revival of an interesting topic – supercritical fluid chromatography (SFC). SFC has faded from attention (though not from importance) in recent years and Kevin spoke about a pH-tunable water stationary phase for SFC and GC, which could be a real advance.

Vincent Remcho is Professor and Patricia Valian Reser Faculty Scholar at Oregon State University Department of Chemistry.

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