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Analytical approach

Posted 14/03/2013 by cgodfrey

As researchers, industry executives and instrument manufacturers are beginning to gather in Philadelphia for the annual US labfest, more commonly known as PittCon, one can only reflect how much of an increased focus there has been in recent months on analytical chemistry and the various analytical instruments that have been harnessed to support it.

Apart from the seemingly endless repeats of Crime Scene Investigation (CSI), from a never ending list of US cities, that have inhabited the tv schedules on both sides of the Atlantic, and probably the Pacific too, that interest has been focused on the same area of analysis: forensic science.

Although one might be tempted to say that the focus, unlike the tv shows, has not been on dead bodies, but rather on the topic of keen interest to everyone, that of food safety and security, that is not necessarily true. Certainly in the UK, and possibly elsewhere, there has been intense interest  in one particular body – the one found under the letter ‘R’ in a Leicester council car park.

The full plethora of analytical techniques was turned on the remain under the car park with one objective in mind – the identification of the body as Richard III, the last Plantagenet king of England, who died during, some say was murdered after, the Battle of Bosworth Field in 14XX.

The initial evidence suggested that it was indeed the late king but only after a comprehensive investigation and analysis was it confirmed.

But more recent headlines have been written, and still continue to be written, about food contamination. The horsemeat scandal is not just a UK or European  phenomenon, there have been a continuous series of such concerns around the world involving not just food but also pharmaceuticals.

Are they examples of accidental contamination or are they deliberate criminal acts, is a question that has still to be answered in many cases, but those cases are on the rise, from the contamination of orange juice in the US to the discovery of rotten meat,  not just perfectly edible horsemeat, elsewhere in Europe and as far away as China. And these cases are in addition to those cases of bacterial contamination that have been with us still the beginning of the spread of processed food.

What is certain is that more, and more intensive, food testing will be needed but are the resources readily available to support this need?  Certainly the signs are that there is a bright future for those involve in the testing business – could this be the new career of choice for the increased numbers of chemists that are applying for, and already attending, graduate degree courses at UK universities?

This also means more jobs for microbiologists as well as toxicologists over and above those that were predicted would be needed to meet the EU REACH regulations. But all this expansion will need to be funded at a time when governments and industries around the globe are still struggling with the economic crisis.

If one looks at the US, for example, in President Obama’s first term of office, the budget stimulus brought joy to both researchers and instrument manufacturers, who took the opportunity to renew and replace existing analytical equipment using the largesse of US government funding. At the start of his second term, the picture has been very different for president Obama, who has been presiding over significant government spending cuts, whose impact has yet to be seen.

Have the US budget cuts or UK austerity measure affected your ability to purchase new equipment? What do you think the impact is likely to be in the long run? Has it, for example, affected your decision to attend PittCon?

And finally, what do you think will be the next challenge that will occupy analytical chemists in the next year or so?

Let us have your comments here or email me direct.

Neil Eisberg - Editor

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