A celebration of instrumentation
The Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation sponsors The Dreyfus Prize in the Chemical Sciences. The purpose of the foundation is to “to advance the science of chemistry, chemical engineering and related sciences as a means of improving human relations and circumstances.” This year, the $250,000 Dreyfus prize was, for the first time, focused on chemical instrumentation.
We Hoosiers excel at analytical chemistry. We have areputation in this field comparable to our status in motor racing, basketballand orthopedics. Information is the driver in today's knowledge economy, andanalytical chemistry leads the sciences in providing data. Science is aboutevidence; some collected by observation, but most collected using instruments.Nature is built of complex mixtures of things, whether they are natural orcommercial. Most are changing as a function of time, from less than a billionthof a second to more than a billion years. Analytical chemistry is called on tosort all this out, but there are only a few such measurements visible to thepublic.
The Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation sponsors TheDreyfus Prize in the Chemical Sciences. The purpose of the foundation is to "toadvance the science of chemistry, chemical engineering and related sciences asa means of improving human relations and circumstances." This year, the$250,000 Dreyfus prize was, for the first time, focused on chemical instrumentation.
The competition was no doubt very intense, but thefoundation selected my colleague at Purdue University, Prof. R. Graham Cooks,for his contributions to advancing mass spectrometry over four decades. Cooksis no doubt recognized as much of a virtuoso on the mass spectrometer as a fewothers are on the violin or cello. He has handcrafted his own instruments ofthe finest materials. His team advanced the art singularly with regard tomixture analysis, ambient ionization and the use of ion traps in portableunits. Cooks understands the value of translational research and has crossedthe bridge from theory to applications as diverse as explosives detection,molecular signatures for cancer phenotyping, pesticides on fresh vegetables andtherapeutic drug monitoring. He fully credits the award to his many studentsand collaborators and, of course, J.J. Thomson, who got the whole thingstarted. Serendipity played a role as well, but only because a prepared mindwas ready for it.
This year marks a century for Thomson's demonstration ofstable isotopes for a non-radioactive element. I'd love to get his reaction tothe mass resolution achieved today and to using the mass spectrometer forexplicating the mysteries of biology. The year 1897 was coincidently the yearThomson established cathode rays as electrons and the chemists at Bayer beganexploring acetylated salicylic acid as an improved treatment for pain. It tooka while for the drug industry to learn to love mass spectrometry after thepetroleum industry showed us the way in the 1950s.
Indiana is blessed with three of the leading academicresearch centers for analytical chemistry at Indiana University, Notre Dame University andPurdue University. These three centers supply a significant percentage of the analyticalscientists in the country. Purdue has done so for over a century. In fact, ourvery first chemistry professor, Harvey Wiley, worked with Teddy Roosevelt toestablish the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA is charged withkeeping our food, drugs, medical devices and diagnostics trustworthy—no smalltask.
Our Indiana research universities excel at developing novelinstrumentation in chromatography, laser spectroscopies, electrochemicalsensors, immunoassays, electrophoresis, microfluidics, ultrasound imaging andnuclear magnetic resonance. These instruments enable the data that leads to anunderstanding of how things work. Medicine, astronomy, agriculture and food,biology, energy and the forensic and environmental sciences all advance asinstrumentation becomes better, faster and more economic. During my engagementwith this field, we have reduced both the size of what we can examine and theconcentrations of substances therein, each by a millionfold.
The Dreyfus Foundation provided an excuse to celebrate oneof the most important tools of physics, chemistry and biology. Massspectrometry is little more than a century old. It has accelerated as a tool tostudy complex mixtures over the last 20 years, advancing thanks in no small measure tothe contributions of Cooks, his students and his academic colleagues here inIndiana. Purdue University, Notre Dame University and Indiana University havemultiple research groups further advancing mass spectrometry fundamentals, instrumentationand accessories.
While we celebrated September as Mass Spectrometry Month inIndiana, our state has long contributed very broadly to the analyticalchemistry tools that virtually every reader of DDNews depends on for evidence based translational science. I'lldrink to that. Red—no bubbles, please. Cheers!
Peter T. Kissinger is professor of chemistry at PurdueUniversity, chairman emeritus of BASi and a director of Chembio Diagnostics,Phlebotics and Prosolia.