Interview with Dr Richard Brown
Dr Richard Brown received his PhD in electrochemistry in 2000 from Imperial College, together with the Physical Chemistry Research Prize. He then moved to the Analytical Science Division at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington, where he currently leads an area called Trace Chemical Analysis, which includes the development of methodologies for accurate air quality measurement. He represents the UK on four European standardisation committees for the measurement of organic and metallic pollutants in ambient air. Dr Brown has been an SCI member since 1998, and is currently a member of the Electrochemical Technology Group Committee.
How do standardisation committees produce methods that are effective and also account for sample variability and sensitivity of analyses?
RB: Measurements of pollutants in air that are subject to control by European legislation are made using standard methods developed by the European Committee for Standardisation (CEN). These standards usually define the specific analytical techniques to be used, but also include performance criteria and quality control checks that must be met to ensure measurements meet defined data quality objectives. In addition, the standards produced are usually validated using extensive field trial campaigns.
What innovative techniques have you recently developed for your air quality measurements?
RB: We have recently demonstrated methods for providing traceability to the SI system of units for mercury vapour in ambient air - an increasingly important pollutant. The use of this technique will ensure that measurements of this pollutant are stable, comparable and coherent, wherever they are made in the world. (Brown et al, Analyst, 2008, 133, 946-53; DOI: 10.1039/b803724h).
Are there applications for these novel techniques in other areas?
RB: Mercury vapour is increasingly an issue in a number of areas, such as industrial emissions monitoring, indoor and workplace air quality, crematoria emissions and the natural gas industry. The technique would have applications in all these sectors.
What do you think is the most significant effect that European standards for the measurement of pollutants in ambient air have had in transforming industrial processes and consumer protection?
RB: The harmonisation of measurement methods across Europe, the need to demonstrate the traceability of the results produced and to provide an estimate of the associated measurement uncertainty are having the effect of ensuring the comparability and accuracy of air quality and emissions measurements. This has positive effects in robustly assessing the exposure of European citizens, and enforcing legislation to reduce emissions and air concentrations of key pollutants, and protect human health.
Electrochemical Technology Group