Subscribe to Newsletter
Techniques & Tools Mass Spectrometry, Spectroscopy, Chemical, Gas Chromatography

Keep On Innovating

The research-driven imperative to conduct innovative and instrument-focused new research could be viewed as ‘blue sky’ and possibly remote from reality. But industry should keep an eye on such research – and ideally engage with its proponents. Why? Because it maintains and encourages real-world applications informed by best-practice studies. For instance, the pace of introduction of new mass spectrometry techniques probably significantly exceeds the speed with which new – and validated – standard methods of analysis can be written, at least initially. However, in time, they may become the new industry standard.

University research, for example, in instrument development typically must be ‘discovery-focused’, where grant success requires a significant discovery component to the research program. Application of a newly reported technique to a specific chemical problem might be noteworthy, but this alone does not constitute instrumental technique development. In my view, innovation is also necessary for its own sake.

Look at the list of Nobel Prize winners. New instrumental approaches enable us to understand nature and can open up a completely new area of science. Would we deny Fenn the opportunity to develop electrospray ionization (ESI)? What about discoveries in sub-cellular processes or knowledge of the heavens that can only be revealed by the extraordinarily high resolving power of super-resolution spectroscopy and the Hubble telescope, respectively? There is always scope for new techniques that measure better, have increased resolution, lower detection limits, and increased molecular clarity or certainty. This is the essence of innovation. The fact that ESI has transformed the conduct of HPLC-MS is now a matter of historical record...

Using a standard method, it may be simply impossible to provide some measurements on conventional lab instruments at the required level of detection – or without an inordinate sample handling process that makes the task overly expensive. So what about a new technique that costs more but offers a 10-fold improvement in detection limits, simplifies sample preparation, and allows greater throughput? Suddenly, innovation is sounding rather appealing.

New techniques require time and research funds to develop. The research that we have been particularly engaged in – comprehensive two-dimensional gas chromatography (GC×GC) – is an example of this. The ability of GC×GC to provide greater resolution, improve detectability, and offer novel structured retentions is an example that challenged the paradigm of the day. Now, it has proven to be an incredibly powerful technique across a range of applications.

However, that’s not to say that every analysis has to be performed with GC×GC! A toolbox containing sufficient tools for analyses from the most complex to the exceedingly simple allows the analyst to choose accordingly. Probably more importantly is that if a task can be conducted reliably using a simple approach – such as GC with a selective detector for pesticide analysis – then it should not require the use of a more convoluted method.

There is a rider, however. We have shown in certain cases, such as pesticides analysis using GC×GC with specific detection (electron capture and nitrogen-phosphorus), that unexpected matrix impurity interferences often still arise. Notwithstanding the use of specific detection, higher resolution may still be advised – and GC×GC could provide the answer. Issues regarding the training needed within a GC×GC technical environment are relevant, but if the application demands it, this should not be considered an impediment.

Once, we approached a lab doing a particular regulatory analysis, offering to conduct a study using our new techniques.

The response was: “We have all the techniques we require, and we are not planning further acquisitions – thanks, but no thanks”. We approached the same lab some years later; they had since purchased both MS/MS and high-resolution MS. We asked again if they would be interested in conducting a study much as proposed earlier. The reply was again: “We have all the techniques we require…”

In another study, we did not need to convince our industry research partners to undertake a new multidimensional gas chromatography (MDGC) study – they had already exhausted their efforts and patience on classical extraction methods. Our new method allowed direct injection (and, therefore, high recovery), high resolution, specific chemical analysis at trace level – and it was fast. In other words, it delivered on many fronts. In yet another study with an industry association, we applied fast MDGC and GC×GC enantio-separation methods to natural oil authenticity. The association is now keen to base a new international standard on chiral analysis to protect the industry against adulteration.

In my view, industry and government analysts can be served very well by linking with university research groups in a win-win collaboration. Users can access and evaluate new methods reasonably readily, while providing the university with a much-needed industry-relevant application base against which to benchmark and assess their innovative methods. Eventually, a new industry standard method may result.

Receive content, products, events as well as relevant industry updates from The Analytical Scientist and its sponsors.
Stay up to date with our other newsletters and sponsors information, tailored specifically to the fields you are interested in

When you click “Subscribe” we will email you a link, which you must click to verify the email address above and activate your subscription. If you do not receive this email, please contact us at [email protected].
If you wish to unsubscribe, you can update your preferences at any point.

About the Author
Philip Marriott

Professor in the School of Chemistry, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia

Related Application Notes
Unlock HRIM's Potential in LC-MS: Boost Biopharma PTM Analysis

| Contributed by MOBILion Systems Inc

QuEChERS Extraction of PFAS from Edible Produce with Waters Xevo TQ-XS

| Contributed by Waters

Best Practices for Monitoring PFAS Contamination in a Routine Commercial Laboratory

| Contributed by Waters

Related Product Profiles
Higher Peaks – Clearly.

| Contributed by Shimadzu Europa

Compact with countless benefits

| Contributed by Shimadzu Europa

The fine Art of Method Development

| Contributed by Shimadzu Europa

Register to The Analytical Scientist

Register to access our FREE online portfolio, request the magazine in print and manage your preferences.

You will benefit from:
  • Unlimited access to ALL articles
  • News, interviews & opinions from leading industry experts
  • Receive print (and PDF) copies of The Analytical Scientist magazine