Alastair (Ally) Lewis
Professor, National Centre for Atmospheric Science, University of York, UK.
Most important lesson Analytical science is amazingly broad, innovative and flexible, so that someone, somewhere, has probably already solved your problem (even if they don’t yet know it).
Encounters with serendipity Too often to list all serendipity since it happens all the time, but I'll single out a chance encounter with John Phillips in 1993 describing to me GCxGC as a new method. At the time he thought of it as a method primarily of relevance to the petrochemical industry but I managed to build the best part of a career out of his technique by applying it to atmospheric and pollution science.
Funniest moment It’s strange that different countries deliver gases in different colored bottles. I once spent a week trying to light an FID in Portugal that was fed with nitrogen rather than air. I never even thought to ask. Funny now – although not at the time.
Eye on the horizon The number of research groups with capacity to really measure new things in new ways frankly shrinks every year, both close to home in the UK and worldwide. Such research groups cost money, need equipment and rely on really skilled people, and as a result have fallen somewhat out of fashion. A result is that those few that remain need to expand their horizons and multitask – where we thought we specialized on one application, we now find ourselves working on multiple problems in multiple sectors, but with a core analytical discipline as our strength. As an atmospheric analytical chemist who works with GC and MS, I now need to fix analytical chemistry for security and fragrance applications, and for health, combustion and so on.