Atomic fingerprints

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A new method of measuring the energy level of an atomic system has been published in Nature (doi: 10.1038/nature07262). “Amplitude spectroscopy” measures the energy of an artificial atom, a quantum system, by scanning the amplitude of the radiation, revealing a wealth of new spectral information.

Spectral lines of atoms have historically been observed to reveal the discrete energy levels of basic matter, testing atomic and quantum mechanical theories. The basic technique is to sweep the frequency of incoming radiation, where clear absorption lines will appear when the frequency matches the separation between two energy levels. William Oliver and colleagues have developed a complementary technique where the energy level of aan artificial atom is not scanned by tuning frequency, but amplitude of the radiation, while the frequency is tuned to a specific feature in the spectrum. The technique is applicable to a range of artificial and natural atoms.


MALDI ToF study sheds more light on Oetzi

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A famous Neolithic Iceman dressed in clothes made from sheep and cattle hair, a new study shows. The researchers say their findings support the idea that the Iceman was a herdsman, and that their technique, reported today in the journal Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry (doi: 10.1002/rcm.3679), has use in the modern clothing industry.

Although the Iceman, dubbed Oetzi’s, clothes were known to be made of animal skins, their exact origin was uncertain. This new study focusses on hair samples taken from Oetzi’s coat, leggings and moccasin shoes.

“We found that the hairs came from sheep and cattle, just the types of animals that herdsmen care for during their seasonal migrations,” says lead researcher Klaus Hollemeyer of Saarland University in Germany.

The researchers analysed hair samples using MALDI ToF mass spectrometry and compared them with those of modern day animals. They found that Oetzi’s coat and leggings were made from sheep’s fur, whilst his moccasins were of cattle origin.

The researchers believe that MALDI ToF mass spectrometry may be faster and more reliable than methods based on DNA analysis and that it could be applied in archaeology and evolutionary biology.

“This method could, for example, be used in checking the purity of products made from animal hair, such as pullovers and jackets made of Cashmere wool,” says Hollemeyer. “I think that a major field of application will be to help manufacturers abide by the European Union law concerning the ban of dog and cat fur trade next year.” Klaus Hollemeyer contributed an article on this topic to Spectroscopy Europe last year [Spectrosc. Europe 19(2), 8 (2007)].


40 years of drug testing at the Olympics

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The Beijing Olympics saw large amounts of drug testing to ensure fair play and were held almost exactly 40 years since drug tests were first conducted at the Olympic Games. Scientific advances, and advances in mass spectrometry in particular, have enabled the authorities to keep pace with attempts by drug cheats to avoid detection. The latest developments in the use of mass spectrometry for sports drug testing are highlighted in a special issue of the European Journal of Mass Spectrometry (

Currently, more than 500 prohibited drugs can be detected by means of “conventional” chromatographic/mass spectrometric approaches, and numerous additional doping violations including the misuse of endogenous hormones such as testosterone or peptides and proteins can be identified by more specialised analysers. Consequently, sports drug testing has always been highly dynamic, and current and future challenges as well as suggested solutions are described in this special issue.

A new class of agents has been added to the list of prohibited substances and methods of doping in 2008: the selective androgen receptor modulators (SARMs). Although not yet clinically approved, WADA banned these compounds from sports and a new detection method as well as a strategy to prepare and characterise a target metabolite in doping control urine specimens is described in the special issue.

The special issue also describes the utility of UPLC combined with mass spectrometry, optimised sample preparation steps combined with dedicated LC-MS/MS setups and a screening procedure for pre-selection of EPO samples.


Aspectrics has appointed Scientific Support Services

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Aspectrics has appointed Scientific Support Services as exclusive UK and Ireland distributor for their range of EP-NIR biodiesel analysers.,

Diamond synchrotron helps preserve ancient warship

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As reported in Spectroscopy Europe 17/6 (2005), synchrotron radiation has been used to help determine the best preservation strategies for the Tudor warship, the Mary Rose. Now researchers are using one of the beamlines at the new Diamond synchrotron, Didcot, UK, to investigate how sulphur and iron compounds are distributed in individual wood cells. This is hoped to complete the scientists' understanding of the complex interactions between the iron, sulphur and wood cell walls. The I18 beamline being used is the microfocus spectroscopy beamline, which currently provides 2.5 μm2 spatial resolution but it is hoped to reduce this to the 1μm design specification once monochromator instabilities have been addressed.,


NMR on a chip?

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A miniature sensor developed at NIST in the USA can detect nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) in small samples of fluids flowing through a novel microchip. The prototype chip device, developed in a collaboration between NIST and the University of California, may have wide application as a sensitive chemical analyser, for example in rapid screening to find new drugs.

As described in Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. (doi: 10.1073/pnas.0711505105), the NMR chip detected magnetic signals from atomic nuclei in tap water flowing through a custom silicon chip that juxtaposes a tiny fluid channel and the NIST sensor. The Berkeley group recently codeveloped this "remote NMR" technique for tracking small volumes of fluid or gas flow inside soft materials such as biological tissue or porous rock, for possible applications in industrial processes and oil exploration.

The chip could be used in NMR spectroscopy, where its small size and high sensitivity make it possible to detect weak magnetic resonance signals from a small sample of atoms in the adjacent microchannel. Detection is most efficient when the sensor and sample are about the same size and located close together, lead author Micah Ledbetter says. Thus, when samples are minute, as in economical screening of many chemicals, a small sensor is crucial, Ledbetter says.


Plenty of growth for the spectroscopy market

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A new report Spectrometers, Spectrophotometers and Spectrofluorometers: A Global Strategic Business Report published by Global Industry Analysts presents some interesting facts and projections about the market for spectroscopic instrumentation. The global market is projected to reach $10.5billion by 2010. Whilst it is no surprise that the areas of drug discovery and development, proteomics, metabolomics and genomics are highlighted and the use of mass spectrometry within them, the report recognises that developments in NIR and mid-IR are "gradually expanding use into novel applications", particularly medical and pharmaceutical. Research efforts on developing non-invasive NIR techniques to look at haemodynamics of tissue samples in vivo and at blood delivery for injured tissues are picked out.

Europe is the second largest market after the USA, but the economic expansion in Asian research and industrial markets "spell new opportunities for spectrometry". NMR is the fastest growing segment within the molecular spectroscopy market, although the report identifies that the US and European markets are nearly saturated and developing regions are "yet to witness rapid proliferation".


Raman developments

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Scientists at the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire, UK, have developed an effective laser-based method for the non-destructive characterisation of the bulk chemical content of pharmaceutical capsules. In collaboration with Pfizer Ltd, the researchers in STFC's Lasers for Science Facility succeeded in quantifying the presence of the active pharmaceutical ingredient in production line relevant capsules to a relative error of 1%. Other established non-invasive methods were unable to reach the same level of accuracy with the same sample.

The technique holds great potential for a range of process control applications in the pharmaceutical industry. The results of the collaborative study are reported in the J. Pharm. Biomed. Anal. (doi: 10.1016/j.jpba.2008.01.013). The development stems from research into Spatially Offset Raman Spectroscopy, which is under development at STFC for a wide range of applications including the detection of explosives in non-metallic containers, the detection of counterfeit drugs through opaque packaging and the non-invasive diagnosis of bone disease and cancer [see Spectrosc. Europe 19(5), 7 (2007)]. The concepts, which are relatively simple to implement, were developed through experiments involving STFC's large scale facilities which provided crucial insight into photon transport processes.

The development is being carried out with STFC's knowledge technology transfer arm and the new techniques are planned for commercialisation through STFC's spin-out company LiteThru Ltd.


NMR identifies marker of bipolar disorder

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Bipolar disorder, or manic depression, is a debilitating psychiatric condition characterised by alternating mania and depression, and affects about one in every hundred people worldwide. Although it is known that the condition can be treated relatively effectively using the moodstabilising drugs lithium and valproic acid, the reasons why these treatments work are poorly understood.

The authors of a new study, from Imperial College London, the University of Cambridge in the UK and the National Institutes of Mental Health in the USA, hope that their research will enable a better understanding of the condition and of how it can be treated.

The researchers compared postmortem brain tissue samples of people with manic depression with those of age and gender matched controls. The samples were taken from the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which controls the processes involved in higher cognitive functioning. The researchers analysed these samples using NMR spectroscopy and found that people with manic depression had different concentrations of chemicals in this area of the brain than those without.

The researchers also used rat models to see the effects of lithium and valproic acid on the metabolite makeup of non-bipolar brain tissue. They found that these drugs caused the opposite chemical changes to those seen in the bipolar brain tissue samples. Chemicals that were increased in the bipolar brain tissue were decreased in rats given the mood stabilising drugs, and vice versa.

The researchers' findings lead them to believe that an upset in the balance of different neurotransmitters known as excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters, which are involved in sending signals in the brain, may be central to the disorder. The study also suggests that lithium and valproic acid work by restoring the balance of these neurotransmitters in the brain. The work was published in Molecular Psychiatry (doi: 10.1038/


Aspectrics appoints Scientific Support Services as UK and Ireland distributor

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Aspectrics has appointed Scientific Support Services as exclusive UK and Ireland distributor for their range of EP-NIR biodiesel analysers.,

Bosch receives an award from German automobile association

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Bosch has received an award from the German automobile association for its Climate Control sensor that uses infrared spectroscopy to measure CO2 levels in the air. This is used to form the basis for new control strategies for air-conditioning systems.

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