Research News

Proteomics reference materials

NIST and the US National Cancer Institute (NCI) have begun a programme to develop measurement assessment materials needed to evaluate and assess advanced proteomic technologies, such as mass spectrometry, that will play a large role in the discovery and validation of cancer-related proteins found in readily accessible body fluids. The shortage of rigorous measurement quality assurance tools for proteomics to ensure reliable and reproducible results has started a $104million, five-year programme by NCI (the Clinical Proteomic Technology Initiative for Cancer, to refine and standardise proteomic technologies, reagents and methods to establish the measurement technology needed to validate protein discoveries and move these technologies into a clinical setting.

NIST will develop a measurement assessment material composed of proteins mimicking the complexity and dynamic range of the human plasma proteome. NIST will also assist in the overall study design and, as research progresses, develop more advanced proteomic reference materials.,


Tomas Hirschfeld Award

The 2006 Tomas Hirschfeld Award has been given to Dr Roumiana Tsenkova from Kobe University, Japan. The Hirschfeld Award is presented for outstanding achievements in the field of NIR spectroscopy. It is administered by the International Council for Near Infrared Spectroscopy and sponsored by Büchi.

Dr Tsenkova started her career in NIR in her native Bulgaria, developing a sensor for disease diagnosis (mastitis in cows). In 1990, after becoming associate professor at the Faculty of Electronics, TU Rousse in Bulgaria, she was awarded the Japanese Monbusho scholarship for a post doctoral study on sensors for robotic milking at Obihiro University, Japan. Later on, in 1992, she moved to Hokkaido University in Sapporo, Japan, as research fellow working on NIR spectroscopy for biomonitoring. Since 1996, she is a tenure professor at Kobe University in Japan, where her research has been in the area of using NIR and multivariate analysis for non-invasive bio-diagnosis and bio-monitoring, and for functional studies in life science. For the first time, she applied NIR for non-invasive diagnosis of disease and its understanding. Recently, she presented perturbation NIR spectroscopy to study water spectral properties in a living object and how they are related to biological functions.


Gerald S. Birth Award

Professor Yukihiro Ozaki of the Department of Chemistry of Kwansei Gakuin University, Sanda, Japan, has been chosen to receive the Gerald S. Birth Award for outstanding work in the field of NIR spectroscopy. The award is made by the Council for Near Infrared Spectroscopy and will be presented at the International Diffuse Reflectance Conference, Chambersburg, PA, USA, in August.


Thermo Electron and Fisher Scientific to merge

Thermo Electron Corporation and Fisher Scientific International Inc. have announced the merger of the two companies to form a new organisation, which will be called Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc. This will be a huge company with revenues in 2007 expected to exceed $9 billion and cash flow in 2007 of $1 billion. Marijn Dekkers, president and chief executive officer of Thermo Electron and of the new company, said “…Our customers will benefit from a partnership that can provide integrated, end-to-end application solutions to reduce their costs and increase efficiency.” The merger is subject to approval by both companies’ shareholders and regulatory approval. It is expected to complete in the last quarter of 2006.,


NIR Award

The Büchi NIR Award is presented every year for excellent contributions in the field of NIR spectroscopy by young scientists (not older than 35 years). The prize is $2000. The deadline is 30 June and more details can be obtained from This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or


“Frequency comb” spectroscopy

An adaptation of cavity ring-down spectroscopy has been described in the 17 March issue of Science. Developed at JILA, a joint institute of the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the US Department of Commerce and the University of Colorado at Boulder, the new technology uses an ultrafast laser-based “optical frequency comb” as both the light source and to measure and identify the characteristic absorptions of the sample. The frequency comb approach provides similar sensitivity to cavity ring-down spectroscopy (about 10 ppb) but provides a much wider bandwidth (100 nm as opposed to 1 nm). This range is in the visible and NIR: 750–850 nm. The system also offers high resolution, and this can be tweaked to reach below the limit set by the thermal motion of gaseous atoms or molecules at room temperature. Data acquisition is fast (1 ms per 15 nm of bandwidth) enabling the study of dynamic systems.

Information on frequency combs can be found at and the Science paper at


Mobile mass spectrometers

Researchers at Purdue University in the USA have developed a miniature, battery-powered mass spectrometer based on the DESI (desorption-electrospray ionisation, see article starting on page 8) technique. The prototype instrument is equipped with a wand-like probe that can be used to sample the environment, such as screening luggage.

Important medical applications are also foreseen. DESI has been used to detect the boundaries of cancerous tumours, helping to ensure that the surgeon removes the entire tumour. “I wouldn’t be surprised if pathologists are using this in operating rooms within two years” said Professor Graham Cooks of Purdue.

The instrument has detected 1 ng of TATP (the explosive used in the London Underground bombings in 2005), as well as other explosives. One vision of the use of such an instrument is in a wireless network linking many together to constantly monitor the air for chemical or biological warfare agents in buildings and critical locations such as airports and stations.

Cooks has recently co-authored a review on DESI:


PTR-MS “tastes” what we eat

Danisco, the food ingredient company, has used proton transfer reaction mass spectrometry (PTR-MS) to develop its “Commonsense” flavour technology. This enables flavour components to be measured as they are released while natural and processed foods and beverages are being consumed. This enables a picture to be obtained of how consumers perceive the taste of the food they eat and the specific components behind consumer preferences.

Using PTR-MS, they measure the rise and fall of key flavour chemicals during chewing, swallowing and breathing. The measurements are made on samples taken from the human nasal cavity, focusing particularly on the breath expelled during the swallowing of food, which is the major contributor to aroma perception. The use of PTR-MS enables the measurements to be made in real time. Once the critical compounds that distinguish a particular fruit or food have been identified, it is possible to recreate a similar effect in a finished food or beverage product.


Differential mobility spectrometer to help treat lung disease

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A new technique based on differential mobility spectrometry (DMS), a development of ion mobility spectrometry, is being developed by Dr Paul Thomas and colleagues at the University of Manchester to treat hospital patients with lung disease. The aim is, according to Dr Thomas, that “…one day we will be able to detect a previously undetectable tumour metabolising inside a human lung simply by asking the patient to breathe into a device like this”. “The potential is such that we will not only be able to provide more accurate diagnosis, but we will be able to tailor treatments to the individual. For instance, if a patient is taking steroids for asthma, we would be able to determine whether they were being given the right amount of steroids from the molecules in their breath which relate to the severity of the inflammation in their lungs.”

This research will form part of the new UK National Initiative in Ion Mobility Spectrometry [see Spectrosc. Europe 17(4), (2005)].


Thallium isotopes shows depth of volcanoes

New research using mass spectrometry to analyse the isotopic signature of thallium has shown that the plumes of hot material that supply molten lava to Hawaii’s volcanoes originate from a depth of almost 3000km, at the border between the Earth’s core and its rocky mantle. This is far deeper than had been thought possible by many scientists: the source of plumes has been hotly debated for more than a quarter of a century.

Dr Mark Rehkämper, from the Department of Earth Sciences and Engineering at Imperial College London, UK, said “It is only recently that scientists have developed the ability to analyse these volcanic rocks in enough detail to reveal exactly where in the Earth’s interior they came from. The previous evidence has unfortunately been quite ambiguous but our new thallium results are now able to conclusively rule out some of the alternative models. What remains is clear evidence of interaction between the Earth’s core and mantle.”


Photon research centre at Manchester

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The University of Manchester has launched the Photon Science Institute (PSI). This £40m research institute will work on cutting-edge light and laser technologies and is the largest research and teaching centre of its kind in the UK with a projected annual research income of £5m and more than 30 full-time academic staff. The Director of the PSI is Professor Klaus Müller-Dethlefs, who is widely known for his contributions to molecular spectroscopy, having invented the ZEKE (Zero Electron Kinetic Energy) photoelectron method.

Research will focus on the development and application of new and existing laser technologies and systems spanning medicine, pharmaceuticals, life sciences and physical sciences. Among the projects will be the development of new non-invasive medical technologies, such as measuring blood sugar levels without taking a blood sample.


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