The Power List 2015
Principal Research Officer, Biotoxin Metrology, Measurement Science and Standards, National Research Council, Nova Scotia, Canada.
Most important lesson I have learned that it is always best to try to help other researchers when they need help to solve a problem – it will always pay off with future opportunities and collaborations, as well as lifelong friendships.
Encounters with serendipity There have been numerous times when we have just finished developing some brand new method or technology and along came an exciting problem that was best solved with the new approach. For example, soon after developing and validating LC-MS methods as well as certified reference materials (CRMs) for a range of shellfish toxins, we were approached by researchers in California trying to solve a mysterious mass killing of seabirds in Monterey Bay. We were able to apply our methods to the identification of domoic acid as the causative agent. Then we were able to quickly help analytical groups on the West Coast implement monitoring procedures, which was helped by the availability of our newly completed CRMs. Shellfish were found to contain high levels of the toxin and these were taken off the market before people were affected. This also solved a long-standing mystery of what affected “The Birds” in Alfred Hitchcock’s movie, which was based on a real incident in the 1960s.
Most unexpected moment Right at the beginning of my career, as a summer student in an analytical lab, my supervisor asked me to help the police investigate a case of possible poisoning. A man had told the police that his wife was trying to kill him – he claimed his vermouth tasted “funny” and she had threatened him numerous times. I discovered that the drink was adulterated and I identified it as N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide, more commonly known as DEET – the insect repellent. Apparently the wife thought her husband was a real pest!
Eye on the horizon I am now approaching retirement and I am very confident that the great team of young researchers that have joined the group will continue the successes we have had in the field of biotoxin analytical chemistry and food protection. Over the last 30 years, the field has transformed from the primitive use of live animal bioassays to rapid, selective and quantitative analyses with the most advanced analytical technologies backed up by a comprehensive selection of CRMs. There are still lots of challenges and exciting new methods to be developed that will increase our food security.