Published by Cary Anne Simpson on February 19, 2016

quantitative water determination

(From left: Dr. Jesus Velazquez, Dr. Sonja Francis (Lewis Group), and Dr. Nathan Dalleska, at Caltech Environmental Analysis Center)

“A lamp is not brought to be put under a basket, is it…?” Mark 4:21

Half a year ago in my last blog I discussed VUV Analytics’ efforts to find the “killer app” for the VGA-100 Vacuum Ultraviolet (VUV) Gas Chromatography (GC) Detector.  While much of our “in house” effort has been focused on industry, industry partners are typically hesitant to share what they have learned in an effort to find every opportunity for competitive advantage.

We certainly can’t blame them for that.

As a tech start-up we understand the need for NDA’s, MTA’s, and various other secrecy agreements that ultimately leave our applications marketing collateral DOA.  Sure, we can find commercially available surrogates for some of that work, but it’s not the same as the real thing and that data is still “sales” data for completely new technology that we have been trained to believe shouldn’t work.  Analytical chemists are paid skeptics and we all know that sales data doesn’t hold a candle to a good peer reviewed journal article for convincing a scientific skeptic.

That said, how does a tech start-up, where everyone is doing the job of three people, find the bandwidth for the effort (not to mention the equipment) required to develop, experiment, re-experiment, and write (and re-write) the content required to be successful with high-quality peer-reviewed journals like Analytical Chemistry, Food Chemistry, and the Journal of Chromatography A?

Well, I’m glad you asked, because the answer is that we really don’t.  We don’t have all of the sample preparation equipment required to do high-sensitivity soil extractions.  We don’t have reaction vessels and high-quality gas-tight syringes required to analyze evolved gases from catalysis.  We don’t have the lab certifications to handle controlled and toxic samples.  We just don’t.  We do, however, have a number of systems that we can share and over the course of the past year we have done a fair bit of that with some very well respected individuals and institutions.

Finding Light in Academia

One of our first supporters was and continues to be Dr. Kevin Schug of the University of Texas at Arlington.  Kevin, the Shimadzu Distinguished Professor of Analytical Chemistry and graduate of Dr. Harold McNair of Virginia Tech wrote the seminal paper on GC-VUV in Analytical Chemistry as well as subsequent papers on FAME separations in Food Chemistry, and Permanent Gases, and Pesticides in the Journal of Chromatography A. Another very highly regarded scientist from UT Arlington, Dr. Daniel Armstrong, is using the VGA-100 to further explore the capabilities of novel new ionic liquid phases for some of these same applications.  His example of long-chain fatty acid separation with ionic liquid columns can be found in a recent issue of Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry.  Both of their efforts have clearly shown that VUV is capable of Food, Environmental, and Industrial applications by looking at some of the fundamental MS challenges faced by analytical chemists including the discernment of isomers, separation of multiple co-eluting species, and orthogonal detection of labile compounds.

Two additional collaborators have focused on fuel analysis, of great interest to our petrochemical partners.  Dr. Ralph Zimmerman of Rostock University has been doing extensive work on GCxGC with MS and VUV detection of hydrocarbon fuels and is slated for publication in Analytical Chemistry later this year.  His secondary research with the VUV has explored breath analysis and specifically measurement of glucose levels in breath by VUV.  Our second fuels collaborator is Dr. James Harynuk of the University of Alberta.  Dr. Harynuk’s work has provided a potential alternative method for ASTM D5186 and CGSB 15.0-2002, group-type separation of aromatic compounds in middle distillate fuels, currently a challenging SFC application.

Broadening the Base of Vacuum Ultraviolet Applications

We are also starting to dig into the potential of this instrument in the Life Sciences as well.  (And if you thought chemical companies didn’t share well, you should try Pharma.)  Again, we have turned to academia for support.  One of our 2015 academic grant awardees is Dr. Mark Emmett at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas.  Mark was also one of our earliest supporters and he is currently using the GC-VUV to analyze isomeric cancer metabolites that have proven to be impossible to discern by MS.  This work coupled with the breath work we have seen from Dr. Zimmerman’s group leads us to believe that the VUV may have good applicability to research in the growing field of breath analysis for cancer metabolites, an avenue that we are currently seeking academic partners in.

These are just a few of our current collaborators.  We have a number of past, current, and future collaborators that have yet to have the opportunity to share their work with the Analytical community.  We have just announced a collaboration with CalTech which we hope will expand our efforts in soil and air quality analysis.  Their work with the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis will likely look at experiments that touch on some of the work that has been done by another of our 2015 grant awardees, Dr. Jean Andino of Arizona State University.  She is preparing to present her ground-breaking work on catalytic conversion of CO2 that was facilitated by her use of the VGA-100.  (Stay tuned, Dr. Andino is our guest blogger for later this month).  Coming up we will be looking at hydrocarbons in the atmosphere with the Kubatova group at the University of North Dakota as well as more fatty acid, flavors, and fragrance appliations with the Mondello group at the University of Messina.

Getting Involved with VUV

As you can see the applications are many and varied and our collaborations with these academic partners have provided benefits to VUV Analytics in terms of applications, library expansion and exposure as well as publication, grant, and industrial collaboration opportunities for the researchers themselves.  Our technology presents an excellent opportunity for academics as very little has been published on Vacuum Ultraviolet GC Detection.  Almost every day we are approached by new researchers with ideas about novel ways to utilize this technology.  Unfortunately, our resources require us to choose carefully those applications that we pursue.

We feel that our 2015 Grant Program was extremely successful, and I am happy to announce we are running it again in 2016.  Click here to visit the Academic Grant registration page for details on how to submit a proposal to bring a VGA-100 detector to your lab.

 “An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.” – Ben Franklin

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