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Techniques & Tools Mass Spectrometry, Environmental, Pharma & Biopharma

A Passion for Discovery

First off, it’s worth explaining what we mean by “discovery research.” To us, as analytical chemists, discovery research is about letting the instrument guide us to new and interesting research problems. The approach was first introduced to us by Nobel Laureate, Linus Pauling, during a lecture Mike attended 35 years ago at the University of Denver. Pauling described his PhD research in humble terms:

“Bragg and his son had just received the Nobel Prize in 1915 using an X-ray diffractometer to determine the basics of crystalline structure. We had an X-ray instrument in our lab, so I went to the chemical storehouse on campus, asked what they had on the shelf, and set to work using X-ray diffraction to understand crystalline structure.”

Pauling went on to say that discoveries simply “opened up in front of him,” including the relationship between crystal structures and the chemical bond. This initial work eventually led to him writing one of the most important books in general chemistry of the 20th century: The Nature of the Chemical Bond. For us, as environmental chemists, that special instrument is the LC/QTOF-MS with accurate mass. And our current work on the nature of organic compounds in ash and water from wildfires is a good example of the discovery research approach.

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About the Authors

Mike Thurman

Director, the Laboratory for Environmental Mass Spectrometry, University of Colorado, USA


Imma Ferrer

Chief Analyst, the Laboratory for Environmental Mass Spectrometry, University of Colorado, USA

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