Issue Date: April 2, 2012
Small, inexpensive, and high performing—these are typical features of many analytical instruments that were introduced at Pittcon 2012 or have made their debut since Pittcon 2011. Four academic researchers—specialists in atomic spectroscopy, molecular spectroscopy, mass spectrometry, and chromatography—helped C&EN identify the most notable new instruments among the cornucopia of offerings at Pittcon this year.
Benjamin W. Smith of the University of Florida, C&EN’s Pittcon 2012 atomic spectroscopy adviser, highlighted LIBS (laser-induced breakdown spectrometry) and inductively coupled plasma (ICP) instruments, and he pointed out a long-term downsizing trend.
In LIBS, laser pulses ablate small amounts of material from sample surfaces directly into energetic plasmas. Individual elements in the plasmas are then analyzed by the spectrometer. Smith said Applied Spectra has done a nice job at updating the genre with three new instruments—the high-sensitivity RT100-HP, which requires scanning to obtain full spectra; the RT100-B, which obtains full spectra without scanning; and the RT100-EC, which gives full spectra in one shot at lower cost.
“They’re benchtop systems with a choice of lasers, fine x-y-z control of the stage for enhanced spatial focusing, and good imaging capabilities so you can see where you’re ablating,” Smith said.
Thermo Fisher Scientific’s new ICP/mass spectrometry (ICP/MS) system, the iCAP Q, and Spectro Analytical Instruments’ new ICP optical emission spectrometer, SpectroBlue, “are important updates on analytical workhorse instruments,” Smith said. Both instruments are benchtop models that continue a long-term miniaturization trend in atomic spectroscopy, he said. “It’s typical of the industry that everyone’s instruments have gotten smaller over the past 10 years or so. ICP instruments were formerly big floor-model instruments and are now routinely available in benchtop models.”
The iCAP Q is a quadrupole instrument featuring decreased analysis time, easier routine maintenance, and a smaller instrument footprint than Thermo’s earlier XSeries 2 ICP/MS instrument, which it replaces, Smith told C&EN. SpectroBlue fits 15 CCD (charge-coupled device) array detectors along the instrument’s curved focal plane—a “robust design that’s different from what most other companies offer,” he said. “This design provides broad wavelength coverage and excellent spectral resolution.”
Four instruments stood out this year for C&EN’s Pittcon 2012 adviser in molecular spectroscopy, laser spectroscopist Joel M. Harris of the University of Utah.
The first is EMD Millipore’s Direct Detect, a membrane-based infrared spectrometry system for rapid quantification of proteins and other biomolecules. Harris pointed out that the system offers improved speed and accuracy of protein quantification compared with two techniques currently used for such protein measurements: Bradford assays based on dye binding, the response of which can be undesirably variable because it depends on the types of amino acids in the protein sample; and ultraviolet absorption at 280 nm, the response of which can vary with protein samples’ aromatic residue content.
Direct Detect uses an infrared-transparent hydrophilic polytetrafluoroethylene membrane as a sample stage and measures amide bond absorption, a parameter that varies with protein quantity but not sequence. The instrument works in the presence of detergents and reducing agents and detects biomolecules such as nucleic acids, lipids, and carbohydrates, in addition to proteins. “It’s adapted to small-volume, 2-μL samples,” Harris said, “and looks like a very promising development.”
Block Engineering’s LaserBench spectrometer, a quantum-cascade-laser-based system that’s compatible with Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) sample-holding accessories, “makes a practical step toward adapting quantum-cascade lasers to IR absorption measurements where a bright, small-area radiation source is needed,” Harris said. Many FTIR experiments are limited by low radiation throughput. LaserBench overcomes this limitation, Block Engineering claims, by using the high spectral power of a quantum cascade laser for better throughput. Potential applications of the system, Harris noted, include analysis of tiny samples with tightly focused or fiber-optic probes and analysis of strongly absorbing samples.
Bruker’s HI 90 Hyperspectral Imaging System is a remote sensor that uses a Michelson interferometer and a focal plane array detector to image spectrally resolved IR emissions from organic molecules in the atmosphere. Each pixel of the array records an interferogram from the field of view, which is transformed into a spectrum. Calculations then generate FTIR spectra containing the IR signatures of sample molecules at different locations in the atmospheric area being sampled.
“The HI 90 system allows fast identification, quantification, and visualization of potentially hazardous gases remotely from long distances,” the company said. Harris added that potential applications include atmospheric research, environmental and industrial monitoring, and military and security imaging.
Implen’s NanoPhotometer P-Class microspectrophotometers for protein and nucleic acid quantification “look like a nice development for acquiring UV-visible spectra in small volumes,” Harris told C&EN. The instruments utilize a xenon flashlamp to cover a wide wavelength range—190 to 1,100 nm—with a single source, he noted. All three versions have small-volume capability, down to 0.3 μL, and two of them include a vortexer to ensure sample homogeneity for consistent readings and high accuracy. Applications include cancer research, drug development, bioenergy, agriculture, and forensics.
C&EN adviser Gary L. Glish, a mass spectrometry specialist at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, said that in the past few years some of the most important new product introductions in mass spectrometry have gravitated away from Pittcon and toward the annual American Society for Mass Spectrometry conferences (C&EN, June 20, 2011, page 36). What he did find worthy of note at Pittcon, he said, was “the continued maturation of small, inexpensive, or less expensive MS systems.” Among those, he identified Advion’s Expression compact mass spectrometer (CMS), 1st Detect’s MMS-1000 Miniature Mass Spectrometer, and Torion Technologies’ Tridion-9 capillary GC/TMS (gas chromatography/toroidal ion-trap MS) instrument.
Advion’s Expression CMS is a benchtop mass spectrometer designed primarily for organic synthesis laboratories and process analysis. The single-quadrupole spectrometer is designed to fit into fume hoods and other space-restricted locations for quick monitoring and identification of compounds created in reactions.
The MMS-1000 from 1st Detect is a cylindrical ion-trap mass spectrometer with tandem MS capability. According to the company, it features a wide mass range, high resolution, fast analysis time, and sensitivity down to 1 part per trillion. Potential applications include process control, lab analysis, drug discovery, and low-cost health care screening.
And Torion’s Tridion-9 is what the company calls “the world’s fastest and most portable GC/TMS.” The instrument, which weighs less than 32 lb, includes a capillary gas chromatograph with high-speed temperature programming, a miniature toroidal ion-trap mass spectrometer with a mass range of 50 to 500 daltons, and a rechargeable battery system. It enables rapid, sensitive, and selective detection of explosives, toxic industrial chemicals, environmental pollutants, and food constituents and contaminants.
Each year, members of the media at Pittcon vote to select the most innovative new instruments at the show. This year, Bruker’s Scion TQ triple-quadrupole mass spectrometer for GC detection won the Pittcon Editors’ Silver Award. The Scion TQ, and the related Scion SQ, feature what Bruker calls the industry’s first lens-free, elliptical ion path, which it says makes the systems easy to use. According to the company, the TQ and SQ are more sensitive than previous GC/MS instruments and have a compact bench-space-saving footprint far smaller than that of conventional GC/triple-quadrupole MS systems.
Glish also noted the Pittcon Editors’ Bronze Award-winning instrument this year. It’s the Protea LAESI DP-1000, an ambient ionization source compatible with a variety of mass spectrometers for identifying metabolites, lipids, peptides, proteins, and other biomolecules from cells, tissues, and biological fluids.
LAESI (laser ablation electrospray ionization) is an ambient ionization method in which sample ions are produced from sample surfaces under ambient atmospheric pressure conditions. Most MS techniques instead require that samples be ionized under vacuum. Thus, ambient ionization simplifies sample preparation and sample handling.
The LAESI DP-1000 uses a focused IR laser beam to create a small volume of nonionized material, which is subjected to electrospray ionization and analyzed by mass spec. Other commercial ambient ionization mass spectrometers don’t use the laser step. The new method eases analysis of nonvolatile and thermally labile compounds and provides improved imaging capabilities, Glish said. But use of an IR laser tends to add size, complexity, and cost, he noted.
C&EN’s chromatography adviser, Norman J. Dovichi of the University of Notre Dame, highlighted several ultraperformance liquid chromatography (UPLC) introductions this year: Waters Corp.’s Acquity UPC2 System and three AB Sciex Eksigent Ekspert systems. The Acquity UPC2 was the recipient of this year’s Pittcon Editors’ Gold Award.
Acquity UPC2 is a combined supercritical fluid chromatography (SFC) and UPLC instrument. It uses compressed carbon dioxide as its primary mobile phase. According to Waters, the system eases some separations that are difficult with conventional chromatographs, such as those of hydrophobic and chiral compounds, lipids, thermally labile samples, and polymers. In testing the new instrument, “we saw repeatability, narrow peaks, and consistent peak widths, all in a gradient mode of operation with extremely low baseline noise,” the company said.
Dovichi also noted Eksigent Ekspert UltraLC 100, 100-XL, and MicroLC 200 UPLC instruments. He believes they could enable AB Sciex to compete effectively with Waters, currently a leader in the UPLC market, and that this development could redound to the benefit of chromatographers in the form of future products with higher performance and lower prices.
The 100 and 100-XL are analytical flow UPLC systems designed to interface with mass spectrometers. They can be used to analyze substances in complex matrices for food safety, clinical research, and forensic applications. And the MicroLC 200, designed for fast separations, high sensitivity, and low sample consumption, is ideal for peptide and toxicology studies in biotherapeutics and pharmaceutical laboratories, among other applications, according to the company.
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