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Hyphenated technique mentality September 21, 2008

Posted by fetzthechemist in Careers, Musings.
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I am an analytical chemist. I first think of myself as neither chromatographer nor spectroscopist. Those titles come with whatever it is that I happen to be doing. Specific titles for specific aspects. I, however, am not the norm if what I see in many others is a true reflection of the field.

For a hyphenated technique, like gas chromatography – mass spectrometry or liquid chromatography with UV or fluorescence fetection. The two ought to compliment each other. Too many users are too focused, too specialized, too oblivious. A GC – MS is not a special sample inlet to an MS or a special detector for a JC. Each part has to be used to its best capabilities and the users should have some knowledge of both halves. Sadly, I think this is rare.

Why? I think a lot of users learn one techniques and do not give the other side much thought. They just use the whole instrument. Too often I see someone rely totally on an MS spectral matching program, without looking at the chromatography. How pure does the peak look? Do the assignments make sense relative to the expected retention? Are the ions due to coeluting contaminents or to ion fragments (yes, MS-MS mode will tell you if you have that option, but most systems are only GC – MS).

Tinkering around with mobile phases or column types is getting to be less and less of a practical skill. Fewer chromatographers understand retention mechanisms.

This wider-ranging attitude is key in any work that overlaps different areas. Great work requires extra effort. The more you assume and rely on an algorithm or spectral matching program, the more you move into vanilla research where the most common way is your way. This can lead to mistakes or miss out on some interesting science. Details often make the difference.

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